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Police Agencies Brace For Cuts

With potential budget cuts hovering over their heads, county law enforcement agencies are bracing for the worst. According to a survey conducted by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, 83 percent of chiefs of police responded they will be making cutbacks in the purchase of needed equipment, such as communications systems and replacement of worn-out patrol cars.

Also, 82 percent reported they will have to cut even more out of their training budgets, and 56 percent reported they may have to lay off police officers.

Some Virginia police chiefs responded that they will have to cut back or eliminate certain programs, such as school resource officers, crime prevention programs, school crossing guards, community policing programs and animal control officers.

Halifax County Sheriff Stanley Noblin said he doesn’t expect the cuts proposed by former Governor Tim Kaine to stand as they are now. “They can’t expect any department to function if those cuts to public safety are made,” Noblin said. “If the cuts stand, I would lose seven deputy positions.”

Noblin said the sheriff’s association is working with the General Assembly on the matter. “The governor (Bob McDonnell) told the sheriff’s association that he would do whatever he could to restore the funds,” Noblin said.

“I personally think it’s time for the state and localities to get their priorities together,” he added. “This is definitely not the time to cut public safety.”

Noblin suggested citizens should call their delegates and state senators to urge them to support restoring funding to law enforcement agencies across the state.

“Public safety and education are our top priorities, and we need their help,” Noblin concluded.

Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Kim White said she is preparing for the worst but hoping things are not as bad as everyone is expecting.
“If the former governor’s proposed cuts went into effect, our office would be cut 20 percent, or more than $100,000,” White explained. “If we had to absorb that cut, it would result in a reduction of services by this office.”

White said according to Virginia law, her office must prosecute felony cases. With the degree of budget cuts proposed, she said her office would not be able to prosecute lesser offenses.

“Police officers would be on their own in the prosecution of DUI cases, domestic violence cases, larcenies from businesses and homes, and other misdemeanors,” she said. “With a reduced staff, we would have to focus on felonies, but we would just have to tighten our belts and still try to give assistance to officers.”

White said all the lawyers in her office are on call 24-hours a day.

“I hope we won’t lose any positions,” she said. “If it comes down to give and take with the county, the county has always been very fair in dealing with my office. The county sees the services provided by my office are necessary.”

White said things may not be as bleak for law enforcement as everyone is predicting. “We do have a governor in office now who comes from a public safety background,” she said. “I think he recognizes that public safety is an essential service of government.”

South Boston Police Chief Jim Binner said the potential state budget cuts would affect training and equipment purchases in his department. “We’re looking at reducing training hours and the purchase of equipment,” he said. “Hopefully any cuts that are made won’t affect the number of officers.”

Binner said he realizes his department could possibly be forced to cut positions. “Our priority is uniformed patrol,” he said. “If we lose any officers, it may affect our degree of participation with the drug task force (Halifax/South Boston Regional Narcotics and Gang Task Force). We may be forced to pull one of our men out of the task force and put him back in uniform.”

Binner also said cuts in state funding could have a pronounced effect on one special law enforcement program. “Budget cuts would affect the school resource officer,” he explained.

The South Boston Police Department currently has 21 uniformed officers on patrol in addition to the chief, captain, lieutenant, two investigators, two drug investigators and the school resource officer.

Halifax Police Chief David Martin said impending state budget cuts also would affect his department, but hopefully not to any drastic degree. “We will have to tighten up,” he said. “But we’ve been doing our best to run efficiently.”

Martin said his department strives to spend only when it’s necessary. “We’re well accustomed to not spending unless we absolutely have to, and then only when it’s absolutely required.”

The chief said hopefully, his department would not have to lose any positions. Currently there are five full-time officers, including the chief and lieutenant, and two part-time officers making up the Halifax Police Department.

“We won’t be partaking of any non-essential training,” Martin said. “We install all our emergency equipment in-house, and we recycle vehicle parts and emergency equipment.”

Martin said his department does everything it can to save money. “Our officers are instructed not to run the defroster or air conditioning in the patrol cars unless absolutely necessary,” he said. “And we price-shop all parts and equipment.

“Part of public service is maintaining a spendthrift attitude, being good stewards with taxpayers’ money,” he explained.

Delegate James Edmunds (R-60th), who is a member of the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee, said his committee provides support but not funding for police departments. “We’re not a money committee,” he said. “But I identify public safety as one of the core roles of government, and I’m doing all I can to restore funding to all the sheriff’s departments and police departments in Virginia.”