Carolina cops could ignore crime due to gas prices

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Cops in Smithfield aren’t going to answer 911 calls from hotels; they say those are usually hang-ups. And robbery reports? False alarms, mostly. Actually, misdemeanors altogether are going to be ignored — all until the city gives gas money to the PD.

The Smithfield, North Carolina town council nixed funding for patrol car fuel this year by 14 percent, or around $10,000 from the previous fiscal year. Police Chief Michael Scott says that that is only enough to keep the vehicles on the road until around February, at which point he is prepared to enforce some drastic new moves that would keep the department from going under — but will also leave a lot of the city’s exposed to crime that cops won’t even bother to investigate.

Scott has asked the town council to let him use the $30,000 the city allotted for office supplies and equipment repair so that he can keep the small fleet of patrol cars fueled through 2012. If they aren’t willing to budge, however, he says that the local law enforcement will be forced to ignore 911 reports and not bother with incidents that might not necessarily warrant police intervention.

To the town council today, Scott is expected to announce his own plan for pinching pennies within the department. The Johnston County council refused to shift the $30,000 from one budget to another, so in response Scott is suggesting that cops avoid 911 calls from hotels and payphones, "as a very high percentage of these calls are errors in dialing,” he tells the News and Observer. Since burglaries are also often false alarms, the Smithfield PD will stop responding to those as well. Additionally, he is proposing that cops completely avoid the city’s western and southern ends, since the crimes that do occur there are rarely violent.

Other police departments across the country have actually suffered even worse of a fate this year as budget woes have left entire cities without law enforcement. In June, the Alto, Texas city council voted to abolish the entire force for six months to save money, to which Mayor Monty Collins cautioned townspeople to bolt their doors and "buy a gun."

"We had to do something drastic," Alto Councilman Jerry Flowers told the Wall Street Journal at the time."The police department, being a non-money-making entity, was the easiest to get rid of while we catch our breath and build up some cash."

Councilman Perry Harris responds that he isn’t going to let things worsen enough to the point that Scott’s proposal will be implemented, saying, "There's no question that we need to provide them with the tools to keep the safety of the town.”

"I think we need to uncover every rock and every stone to see other areas where we could save some money," Harris adds to the News and Observer. With the latest plan calling for cops to more or less stop doing their job, it looks like it’s going to take a hell of a stone to be turned over of Smithfield intends on keeping their boys in blue on the books — or at least in their cars.