Broke: Las Vegas Nevada Police Department Faces $68 Million Budget Shortfall – Costs $525 MILLION A Year To Run Department

June 26, 2012

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA — The Metropolitan Police Department’s estimated $68 million budget shortfall next year has Sheriff Doug Gillespie preparing for a worse case scenario. He must find the money by April or be forced to make drastic cuts, including patrol officer positions, which are already at a bare minimum.

Metro estimates it will cost about $525 million to run the department next year. They have already scrapped two police academies, closed a substation and cut more than 230 positions in the last two years.

Gillespie detailed to the police commission how serious the situation is, calling on help from the City of Las Vegas and Clark County. In 60-days, he wants to know how much the department will get from each entity, and he expects a financial tug of war.

“The city and the county have had to reduce service levels as well, eliminate positions as well, so none of these decisions are going to be easy,” he said.

The county says it has no more to give and that deeper cuts are inevitable. Uniformed officer numbers are already near minimum safety levels.

“You can’t reduce their resources and numbers below acceptable levels,” said Gillespie.

Another big reason Metro is in this bind is Clark County’s declining property taxes, which have seen a 36 percent drop accounting for nearly $61 million that normally would have been in the police budget. The sheriff plans to ask the Nevada legislature to re-allocate $54 million earmarked to hire new cops to help fill the budget.

One of the more surprising moments of the meeting was a $350 donation that got a standing ovation. Paul Jones collected soda cans and donated the money to the department.

“I heard bad things were going to happen. I wanted to help save people’s jobs and help donate money,” he said.

What’s inside his piggy bank may not be much, but Gillespie says the gesture gives him goose bumps. With the department facing one of the toughest financial binds since the 1980’s, Jones is just happy he can give some relief.

“Thank you for keeping the bad guys off the streets,” he said.

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Broke: Detroit Michigan To Lay Of 164 Firefighters – 19% Of Workforce – Claims It May Be Temporary

June 26, 2012

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – As Detroit continues to work through its financial difficulties, the city will lay off 164 firefighters by the end of July, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s office announced Monday.

The layoffs could be temporary, as the city hopes to secure a federal grant that would restore the jobs of 108 firefighters. Still, there is no guarantee the city will be awarded the grant, Detroit Fire Commissioner Donald Austin said during budget talks this spring.

“Since I became mayor, I’ve made public safety my top priority, and I’ve said I would protect the jobs of police and firefighters, but fiscal realities have made this untenable,” Bing said in a statement. “With my administration continuing to work to fiscally stabilize the city and with recent cuts to the city’s budget, we’re announcing the layoffs of 164 Detroit Fire Department firefighters by the end of July.”

Bing said he hopes that many, if not most, of the remaining 56 firefighters who will lose their jobs will be recalled as the fire department loses others through retirement and attrition. The layoffs represent nearly 19 percent of the fire department’s 881 sworn firefighters. There are also 248 EMS technicians.

Dan McNamara, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association, called the layoffs disastrous and said the action will force 16 fire companies throughout the city to close.

“For as long as we’ve been fighting fires in the city of Detroit, we have guaranteed that if you call us, we will come,” McNamara said in statement. “If these cuts remain, there will be times when we won’t have the necessary resources to respond. … We have a disaster waiting to happen that will likely result in not only the loss of property, but potentially the loss of lives.”

McNamara said Bing is calling for $23 million in cuts from the department, cuts that “will put its fire department and its residents at great risk — increasing response times and further taxing an already greatly reduced workforce.”

In his statement, Bing said Austin and his staff have developed a plan to maintain the highest levels of fire service by:

• Deploying engines from adjacent sectors and using newly installed GPS systems in the engines and rigs to best dispatch fire department personnel.

•Conducting thorough risks/gain analysis of interior versus exterior fire suppression.

•Continuing community fire prevention education.

“Laying off any of our courageous and dedicated public safety personnel is the last thing I want to do at this point, but I have to face this hard reality,” Bing said.

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Fired Duval County Texas Deputy Sheriff Victor Carrillo Arrested For Theft After Pawning Department Assault Rifle

June 21, 2012

DUVAL COUNTY, TEXAS -The Duval County Sheriff’s Office has arrested a former deputy for allegedly pawning off an assault rifle that belonged to the department.

Victor Carrillo, 27, has been charged for theft by a public servant. Carrillo was fired for an unrelated matter last month. When he did not turn in his $1,500 rifle, officials eventually discovered it had been pawned off in Corpus Christi.

At last report, Carrillo was being held at the Duval County Jail in lieu of a $5,000 bond.

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Broke: Los Angeles County Court System Downsizing As Money Runs Out

June 16, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – The Los Angeles County court system began handing out layoff notices Friday as plunging budgets set in motion major reductions.

Officials said the cutbacks in the court system will affect 431 employees and 56 courtrooms in a county that’s home to nearly 10 million people.

Targeted employees were given layoff notices and packages of information on how to get health insurance and other benefits. The workers were initially placed on two-weeks administrative leave to get their affairs in order.

Union representatives stood outside a downtown courthouse wearing stickers that said, “Justice has left the building.”

The court administration, meanwhile, said a job fair will be organized to help them find work.

Presiding Judge Lee Smalley Edmon said it was one of the saddest days in the history of the Los Angeles Superior Court. She expressed concerns for the people laid off as well as consumers who will face a slowdown in resolving civil cases.

“Could we be heading toward five year delays getting to trial?” Edmon asked. “I certainly think so.”

Friday began with a report that a courthouse employee had been found dead on a loading dock. Edmon said she was notified of the death of Ray Nemo, a court facilitator who had been laid off previously but brought back to work and was not scheduled to be laid off again. But he may not have known that before he died of a heart attack.

Another employee reported having heart palpitations and an ambulance was called. But Edmon said the woman was not one of those targeted in the layoffs.

“It is a stressful time for our court system,” Edmon said.

The layoffs and pay cuts are Los Angeles’ answer to the statewide budget crisis that has lawmakers in Sacramento debating how to reduce a $16 billion deficit. Other counties are making cuts but their numbers are dwarfed by Los Angeles County with its 4,700 employees and its need to absorb $100 million in funding cuts. Edmon said 70 million in cuts were made earlier and the new cutbacks will amount to $30 million in savings.

Each county is handling its court funding cuts differently.

In Fresno County, seven branch courthouses in outlying areas are being closed. Residents in those rural areas will have to travel longer distances to file lawsuits.

In Ventura County, as in Los Angeles County, the services of court reporters are being eliminated for civil trials. Litigants will have to hire their own court stenographers and in some cases judges are being told they may have to take notes on their own cases rather than rely on a printed record.

“We are laying off people who are committed to serving the public,” Edmon said. “It is a terrible loss both to these dedicated employees and to the public.”

The union representing state and municipal employees _ the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees _ called Friday’s action a “freeze on justice in Los Angeles” and warned that the county would experience “an end to timely justice” with cases being delayed for years, particularly in civil courts

Friday’s action calls for laying off 157 people, while hundreds more will be given lower-level positions, reduced to part-time work or transferred to new jobs because their old ones have been eliminated.

Edmon and Assistant Presiding Judge David Wesley expect further cuts and said the new cuts are permanent.

“There will be more cuts next year and their impacts will be severe,” Wesley said.

The current plan eliminates the county’s innovative juvenile traffic courts, which will result in the closure of 11 courtrooms. Court reporters will no longer be available for civil trials and 110 management, clerical and administrative positions outside courtrooms are being cut. These are likely to mean longer lines at windows where people go to pay traffic tickets or file civil lawsuits.

A special temporary restraining order center will be operated by three judges in order to handle the need for emergency orders that can’t wait. Other judges will be assigned to achieve case settlements.

“We will have no trouble keeping our judicial officers busy,” Edmon said. But she acknowledged they will be working longer hours with reduced staff.

Although most of the 56 courtrooms affected countywide are civil courts, 24 criminal courtrooms also are being closed. If criminal courtrooms need to be reactivated to provide defendants with speedy trials, more civil courts would be closed, Edmon said.

The executive officer and clerk of the court, John A. Clarke, suggested the court is being swept up in “catastrophic changes” at the state level.

“The commitment of our judicial officers and staff to preserve access to justice is unwavering,” he said. “But our ability to follow through on that commitment may soon be exhausted.”

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Broke: Stockton California Authorizes City Manager To File For Bankruptcy

June 6, 2012

STOCKTON, CALIFORNIA – The city of Stockton moved a step closer to becoming the nation’s largest city to declare bankruptcy, authorizing the city manager to file for Chapter 9 protection from creditors.

A 6-1 vote after a tense 4 1/2-hour public meeting Tuesday directed City Manager Bob Deis to file if the current mediation process fails. On March 27, Stockton stopped payments to creditors and entered a confidential mediation process under AB 506, a California law designed to slow municipal bankruptcies by forcing all parties to the table. Under this law, the bargaining period has a 60-day limit, unless all parties agree to extend it for another 30 days.

The city and its creditors agreed to extend negotiations through June 25.

Deis said he wants to be ready to go to bankruptcy court the next day if talks fail.

A statement released by the city described the financial situation as “dire” and noted that the city will face a $26-million deficit by July 1.

The port city of 290,000 has one of the highest home-foreclosure rates in the nation, as well as a high rate of violent crime. City Hall also is in an ongoing struggle with police and city workers unions over pensions. It has already cut many city services and is selling off properties such as city parking garages.

“It’s time to stop the chaos and degradation of this organization and fix the structural imbalance,” Deis said in a statement. “We have to start the road to recovery.”

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Broke Suffolk County New York Charging Dog Owners As Much As $13 To Enter “Big Dog” Park While “Small Dog” Park is Free

June 6, 2012

SUFFOLK COUNTY, NEW YORK – Dog owners have been hot under the collar about fees at some Long Island dog parks.

On summer weekends, visitors to the “big dog” play area at West Hills must pay a fee of up to $13 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Big dogs are considered those that weigh more than 25 pounds.

However, visitors to the “small dog” park on the other side of West Hills don’t pay a fee.

“I wouldn’t call it prejudice,” said big dog owner Sidney McNeil. “I just think it’s stupid.”

Some big dog owners, like Lisa LaMorte of Huntington Station, have written county lawmakers, asking for a reduction in the fee. But with Suffolk County facing a huge budget deficit, dog owners seem to be barking up the wrong tree.

“I don’t mind paying something,” said LaMorte. “But what they are asking is too much.”

“I feel sorry for them,” said small dog owner Michael Price. “But I am here in the small dog park and very happy about that.”

According to Suffolk County officials, canine size doesn’t matter at West Hills and is not the reason behind the fees in the “big dog” park.

“The fee charged on the weekends is associated with parking and the amenities offered at the park, which include hiking, picnicking and horseback riding,” said county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter. “The fee structure that exists precedes the establishment of the dog park.”

“Honestly, do they really think I am going to pay $13 to bring my dog here?” asked dog owner Julie Schrana. “I can arrange a play date in my backyard.”

Still, other dog owners lamented scaling back their visits to a park they love.

“This is the best dog park on Long Island,” said Laura Lerner, as she held her retriever Maki. “I come here every day and people visit from all over the area.”

Baird-Streeter said anyone wishing to bring their dogs to the park will not incur a fee Monday through Friday and prior to 8 a.m. and after 4 p.m. on weekends.

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Violence A Big Problem In Overcrowded And Underfunded Alabama Prison System – And Its Only Going To Get Worse

June 3, 2012

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Violence has become a growing concern in Alabama’s prisons, an analysis of incident data shows, and prison officials and other experts fear it could become an even bigger problem next year when the system’s overpopulated facilities will be operated on even less money.

Three inmates have been killed in Alabama prisons since this budget year began in October. In the four previous years, prisons had reported, at most, one homicide.

In the 2010-11 year, the Department of Corrections reported no homicides. But it counted 1,397 fights and nonsexual assaults, up from 1,000 the previous year. In addition to an almost 40 percent increase in inmate-on-inmate violence, assaults leading to serious injury doubled, rising from 47 to 95.

Prison officials say that’s a result of better record-keeping. But people who work closely with inmates say the threat is real, leading some prisoners to arm themselves in defense and others to clamor for safer cell space.

“It’s gotten much worse in the last two or three years,” said Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that represents prisoners. “I’ve been hearing from folks that it’s gotten impossible to get into honors dorms because everybody and his cousin is trying to get in.”

Challenge

Corrections Commissioner Kim Thomas said the department’s goal is to prevent as many assaults and fights as possible. But violence is an ongoing challenge, he acknowledges, and one that is made more difficult by having too many inmates and too few officers. That problem is likely to get worse in the coming year.

The Department of Corrections’ budget for next year already has been cut $16 million, and there is a potential for an additional $35 million cut, which would mean a “dynamically different prison system,” Thomas said.

“We may have to put it very, very close to a line I’m not comfortable with,” Thomas said.

Already, violence is commonplace in Alabama’s prisons, and not just in the facilities housing what are considered the most hardened criminals. In 2010 and 2011, the highest rates of inmate-on-inmate violence — and the highest rates of assaults causing serious injuries — were in medium-security prisons, according to a Birmingham News analysis of prison reports.

Stevenson and others representing prisoners believe the state’s official counts underestimate the dangers faced by inmates. It’s a suspicion that has been borne out in the past.

The Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta filed suit in 2009, claiming inmates at Donaldson Correctional Facility in west Jefferson County were at risk of harm because of crowding, short staffing and pervasive violence — contentions backed by correctional officers.

As a result of the suit, the Southern Center discovered the state’s public reports about inmate attacks routinely did not match the prison’s internal records.

Between April 2008 and April 2009, the Department of Corrections’ public reports listed only one assault with serious injury at Donaldson. Internal records showed at least 16 Donaldson inmates were taken to outside hospitals during that time for treatment of serious injuries. Among other things, assaults had left two of the inmates with collapsed lungs, another vomiting and urinating blood, and another blind in one eye, according to court documents.

In August 2010, Alabama prison officials installed a system that keeps better track of any assaults or fights that occur. “We do realize that we have to make sure that the figures we gather are validated and accurate,” Thomas said. “We want to make sure we accurately report those to the public.”

Melanie Velez, a lawyer for the Southern Center who was involved in the case, said she believes reporting is better and Donaldson is safer as a result of the lawsuit, which settled in 2011.

“There was nowhere to go but to improve the situation there,” she said.

But she doesn’t believe Alabama prisons have violence under control. “We receive hundreds of letters a month from people who are incarcerated there and their loved ones,” she said.

Rosemary Collins of Shelby County understands why. An advocate for criminal justice reforms as part of a group called Alabama CURE, she hears regularly from inmates who feel threatened by stabbings and other attacks they see around them. One of the inmates is Collins’ 50-year-old son, Victor Russo, who is serving a life-without-parole sentence at St. Clair Correctional Facility near Springville.

“It’s really scary,” she said.

In the past seven months, at least three inmates have died at the hands of other inmates, according to prison officials.

Jabari Leon Bascomb died of multiple stab wounds he received at St. Clair on Oct. 15, just three days after his 22nd birthday.

John Abraham Rutledge, 30, was found strangled to death in his cell at St. Clair on April 27.

Jeremy Jones, 33, died May 24 after being stabbed during a fight with another inmate at Bibb Correctional Facility in Brent.

For every inmate killed, many others were assaulted.

Comparing data

In the state’s 2011 budget year, the inmate-on-inmate assaults and fights reported by the prison system translated to an annual rate of a little more than 4 per 100 inmates. It’s hard to compare that rate with the department’s historical figures because of changes in the way statistics have been collected and reported over the years.

It’s also difficult to judge Alabama’s record against other states because of the different ways violent incidents can be categorized and tallied.

“I don’t know you can say there’s a benchmark because there are so many factors that can go into that,” said Morris Thigpen, a former Alabama prison commissioner who is now director of the National Institute of Corrections.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that the rate of inmate-on-inmate assaults was less than 3 per 100 inmates across all state and federal prisons in 1995 and again in 2000. The agency has since stopped reporting that information, a spokeswoman said.

As of 2011, Tennessee’s Department of Correction reported assaults at a rate of about 2.5 incidents per 100 inmates, while Georgia’s reported rate was 4.5 per 100 inmates and North Carolina’s rate approached 11 per 100 inmates.

At best, though, tracking violence behind bars is an imperfect science.

The Center for Behavioral Health Services and Criminal Justice Research at Rutgers University has found the numbers reported by prison systems are consistently lower than the numbers reported by inmates.

Jing Shi, a research analyst and statistician for the center, said about 20 percent of inmates reported in a 2005 survey that they’d been physically assaulted just in the preceding six months. A key was that researchers asked about specific behaviors, such as slapping and kicking, that inmates might not even think to report as an assault, she said.

Shi said research has linked the prevalence of violence to a range of things, including the way a prison is designed and the way it is run.

In Alabama, a key problem has been the intersection of get-tough criminal policies and anemic funding for prisons. As it stands, Alabama prisons house almost twice as many inmates as they were designed to hold, and they have an 11-to-1 ratio of inmates to correctional officers. In 2005, Alabama ratio’s was better, at 9-to-1, and it was still the worst of any state, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“I think Alabama has been very fortunate, given how understaffed they have been through the years, to have been able to maintain as safe facilities as they have,” Thigpen said.

E.J. “Mac” McArthur, the chief of the Alabama State Employees Association, said to the extent peace has been maintained so far, it’s a credit to seasoned correctional officers. “Regrettably,” he said, “I think we’re living on borrowed time.”

In March, Kim Thomas took the unusual step of leading news reporters on a tour through St. Clair Correctional Facility to highlight the dangerous conditions resulting from overcapacity, understaffed prisons. Thomas pleaded not only for more money for prisons but also for sentencing reforms.

Over the past decade, drug courts and other initiatives have helped control the prison population by diverting thousands of convicts into community corrections programs. Even so, Thomas said, the prison population has continued to grow. Legislators, who have added to the problem by continually creating new crimes and increasing the penalties, passed a measure this year to try to slow the progression. But the measure, which will make it easier for nonviolent offenders to avoid incarceration, offers no short-term fix for prison crowding or the violence it fuels.

“You put enough water in a balloon, it’s going to bust sooner or later,” said Capt. Lloyd Wallace, who works at Limestone Correctional Facility and is president of the 500-member Alabama Correctional Organization.

Unlikely alliance

Wallace said inmates aren’t the only ones at risk. That’s why his group joined with inmates in the Donaldson case to try to address the safety issues. But what he considers the core problem, short staffing, is getting worse throughout the prison system, he said.

“Our staff is lower now than I’ve seen it in years,” Wallace said.

And in the short term, it is more likely to get worse than better. The Legislature cut the prison agency’s budget by a little more than 4 percent for the 2013 fiscal year, which begins in October. And even that amount depends on voters approving a transfer from the Alabama Trust Fund to the state’s General Fund next September.

As of February, the department had fewer than 2,300 correctional officers, less then 65 percent of the authorized number. Thomas said he worries the count will continue to slide. If the worst budget cuts come to pass, the system could be unable to operate safely and might be required to release large numbers of prisoners, he said.

Advocates for prisoners agree staffing and crowding are huge issues. But they say the prison system also has helped foster dangerous conditions by not attacking violence more aggressively, whether it comes at the hands of inmates or staff.

Just this past month, the U.S. Justice Department said it would look into reports that employees had been sexually abusing inmates at the Tutwiler women’s prison near Wetumpka. Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative requested the investigation, saying that at least two Tutwiler inmates had gotten pregnant by guards in recent years and many others had been raped or subjected to sexual advances.

While some offending employees were fired or dismissed, Stevenson told the Justice Department that Tutwiler also retaliated against women who lodged complaints about sexual assaults.

Velez said the issue is similar to physical violence in prisons.

“It’s definitely a combination of factors that include overcrowding and understaffing but also a real reluctance on the part of Alabama corrections officials to realize they have a problem,” she said. “In order for there to be a real systemic change to the culture of violence that permeates Alabama prisons, the Department of Corrections has to recognize that it has a real problem.”

Instead, she and other lawyers say the department fails to protect inmates from assaultive staff and fellow inmates. “They’re letting people fight,” said Stevenson. “They’re not responding in any meaningful way.”

Stevenson is reluctant to call for prosecution of inmates involved in prison clashes; many end up arming themselves and going on the offensive because they have been vulnerable, victimized and unprotected, he said. But, he said, “If you’re only going to do time in segregation for a violent assault, there are going to be more violent assaults.”

Thomas disputes the contention that the prison system doesn’t take the issue seriously.

“We don’t want violence in our facilities,” he said. “It puts our officers in danger, and we are responsible for protecting the inmates.”

Stevenson said society at large has a stake in ensuring that inmates are protected from violence in prison.

“Most people are going to be released,” he said. “Torturing, abusing and assaulting people over many years and then releasing them to the public is not a sensible public safety strategy.”

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