As Bexley City Council members ponder how to maintain existing services while balancing the city budget, Police Chief Larry Rinehart says even minimal reductions to his department would affect citizen safety.

As Bexley City Council members ponder how to maintain existing services while balancing the city budget, Police Chief Larry Rinehart says even minimal reductions to his department would affect citizen safety.

So far, Rinehart said, police have escaped the budget axe.

Bexley's police department has 28 full-time police officers, four full-time police dispatchers, two part-time employees and one administrative assistant.

"It's no secret that the city of Bexley is looking at some pretty significant revenue shortfalls beginning in 2012," Rinehart said. "They (administration and city council) have told all of us (department heads) to be prepared, that nobody is exempt from any cuts.

"To my knowledge, city council hasn't decided on any significant cuts to the police department at this point," he said.

Within the past year, city department heads were instructed to come up with a plan to deal with possible 10 percent across-the-board cuts.

"The only way I can cut 10 percent from my budget is to cut people," Rinehart said. "I made that clear to council. I actually went through that drill even though council assured me at the time that they weren't interested in cutting people."

Rinehart said he thinks council needs to clearly define its priorities while addressing the projected budget deficit.

"I'm hoping what council will do is prioritize from most important to least important, every function that the city government performs and that they will begin their cuts at the bottom of that list," he said.

Rinehart described Bexley police operations as "very lean."

"We're a very small police department but we're also a very busy police department," he said. "Because we have always been lean - we don't have any fluff or any fat here at all. If you cut one position, any one position in this agency, it will have an impact on the service that we provide for our residents."

Rinehart said all Bexley police operations fall under one of two categories, patrol officers on the street or investigation.

"Everybody here either does one of those two jobs or we do something that directly supports those jobs," he said.

While most police departments similar to Bexley's have three or four administrative support persons, Rinehart said he has only one and he and the deputy chief assist with administrative duties to ensure they are completed. He said even the animal control and parking control officers multi-task to complete work that would otherwise have to be handled by police officers.

"They are even cross-trained as radio control officers and they spend a significant amount of time filling in in the radio room, which keeps police officers out of the radio room and on the street," he said.

Meanwhile, Rinehart said, the workload continues to increase.

"Our arrests go up every year," he said. "The number of dispatch runs we go out on go up every year. We're very busy just trying to stem crime and keep it away from our neighborhoods."

Rinehart said that while Bexley is considered a suburban community, its proximity to urban crime presents unique challenges for the department.

"We are in an urban environment," he said. "We are literally an inner city police department. There are some depressed areas around us and crime creeps in 24-7-365 and there are some criminals trying to penetrate our city.

"Our police patrol presence, proactive policing, is critical here. Keeping police cars on the street and moving is critical."

Rinehart said patrol officers put more than 200,000 miles a year on the department's fleet of vehicles, despite the fact that Bexley is only 2.5 square miles in size.

"That's our key to success, that very visible barrier of police officers" he said. "To lose even one police officer per shift would be to lose 25 percent of our police coverage in this city. If that were to happen, we would see an immediate spike in crime."

Rinehart said he thinks council shares his concerns, but he will still lobby to preserve his department's staffing levels.

"I need to make sure that we continue to deliver the level of police service that this community demands," he said. "I'm comfortable the city council understands these issues but I have to be very vigilant in the discussions and making sure that we are represented accurately when it comes to where the dollars go."

Mark Masser, chairman of city council's safety committee, said council is looking at making cuts but stressed he will not sacrifice citizen safety.

"The chairman of the finance committee has asked that all department heads review and cut their budgets substantially with the goal being a balanced budget," Masser said.

"I am sure that the chief of p olice will review his budget and make suggestions where he feels money can be saved," Masser said. "Let me assure the residents of this community that as chairman of the safety committee, I will do all I can to make sure that your safety is never jeopardized. The safety of our residents has always been my number one priority."