The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 19, 2014

City officials taking police levy to public

Staff Writer

ASHTABULA — Ward 4 Councilwoman Josephine Misener believes the city is in desperate need of more police on its streets.

A mother and son shot dead in January on Norman Avenue, on top of two fatal shootings in November on Hiawatha Avenue, has Misener fired up about the necessity of passing the police levy, come May.

“Look around us! It’s getting scary,” she said. “We have to clean up this city and it starts with a strong police department.”

Misener is the chair of the Citizens for Safety Committee, which believes its necessary to levy an additional 2.5-mill tax for five years specifically to hire more officers in the Ashtabula Police Department.

“Our goal is to pass the police levy and put seven more police officers on the streets,” she said. “One thing the government should do is protect its citizens.”

The committee will host three informational meetings at the following times and locations:

• 6 p.m. March 25 at St. Peter’s Church;

• 6 p.m. March 26 at People’s Baptist Church, and

• 6 p.m. March 27 at Zion Lutheran Church.

Ashtabula Police Chief Robert Stell, City Manager Jim Timonere and council members will be at the meetings to answer citizens’ questions about the levy and the police department.

“We want people to come and get the real facts,” Timonere said. “It will also be a chance for people to ask questions and get face-to-face answers.”

The police department came under scrutiny recently when Ashtabula businessman John Ginnard questioned overtime expenses.

Timonere and Stell said increased duties and crime resulted in the police department racking up considerable overtime in 2013. The police department spent about $330,146 in overtime, according to city records.

Ginnard said the city should cut overtime spending and hire three officers with the $330,146 spent on overtime last year.

Stell said it doesn’t work that way in real life and that’s sometimes difficult for people outside law enforcement to understand.

High crime, investigations into homicides, and being caught in the midst of a hiring freeze all contributed to extra-high overtime numbers in 2013, he said.

In addition, the department is at an all-time low in staffing.

The department now has 26 officers (including the chief), down 15 officers from 20 years ago. The department also has lost support personnel, such as correction officers, over the years, requiring police to handle jail monitoring and inmate-related duties.

Misener said the upcoming informational meetings will give people a chance to talk to their city’s leaders, then they can vote on what they decide.

“It’s really about economic development,” she said. “Unless we clean it up, people aren’t going to move here.”