Proposal to ground Fresno Police helicopter

FRESNO, Calif.

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Council member Blong Xiong was criticized for proposing cuts in police overtime. He also suggested grounding the police helicopter.

The goal of city budget hearings is to find a way to balance the city budget. But it doesn't look like the council is willing to take any more from police.

As the city struggles to cover a $6 million budget shortfall for the coming year, city council president Lee Brand said, "This is a time when there's no sacred cows, we've got to look at every option."

And council member Blong Xiong had some ideas. "Next move we reduce police overtime by one million dollars. We have the police helicopter grounded for one year."

But those suggestions were not popular with council member Larry Westerlund. "It's amazing we're event talking about it."

Council member Oliver Baines, a former police officer said cutting overtime would compromise police work. "We just had a 13 year old boy murdered a couple of weeks ago. If we hamstring them by a million dollars what won't we be able to investigate."

Police Chief Jerry Dyer took offense at the suggestion. "To cut a million in overtime from our budget, and you have never heard me say that, would be devastating to the safety of the citizens of Fresno and I mean that council member Xiong."

Dyer told us the department has already been cut. "But we need to go back and look at the facts, that we have cut 350 positions from the Fresno Police Department, we've cut one and a half million dollars in overtime in the last two years which is 1/3 of our overtime. Our helicopter is flying 1/3 of the time it used to."

The department's overtime budget is nearly $3 million; Xiong says cities all over the country are cutting police department budgets. "Every other city has made the same thing and made tough choices, so we're no different.

Police officers can rack up a lot of overtime. The latest numbers available show one officer more than doubled his salary in 2009 with overtime. Many others made more than half their regular pay in overtime. But the key to getting a balanced budget isn't overtime, its wage cuts. The city wants employees to accept permanent 3% pay cuts.

The Fresno Police Officers Association, and other bargaining units have yet to make a deal with the city, which wants agreements by Friday.

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