'Missing cops' not a priority, we're told

If you live in Rock Hill near the Museum of York County, and you call the cops at 2 a.m. because some jerk is breaking down your back door, the same patrolman you need patrols near West End Baptist Church. He could be 7 1/2 miles away. The downtown cop, near the police station, he patrols all the way to the Catawba River, almost 6 miles away.

But your City Council decided Monday night that Rock Hill, boomtown, growing all the time, didn't need any new patrol cops this year. Police Chief John Gregory a year ago asked for six patrol officers, and wanted the patrol zones made smaller because of more area and people. The council had hiring the six as a goal for months.

Then, the budget came, submitted by the city manager. It was approved Monday night.

It was the case of the budget with the six missing cops.

The only councilman to say no to the budget, to say, "Where are the missing cops?" was Kevin Sutton.

Sutton, thankfully, is a man who hates taxes. If air wasn't free, Sutton might not breathe.

To Sutton's credit, he wanted the cops, and what I take that to mean from him is the city needs to find money, trim somewhere else if it has to, to pay for police.

No other council member asked Smith, "Where are the six missing cops?"

The city manager, Carey Smith, told Sutton he prefers to wait to hire officers so that the city's street crimes unit, which started this year, can get established. That unit might get the six hires instead.

Maybe a robber will wait until next year to rob your house.

Cops deter crime

There is no doubt that the more cops there are visible on the street, the less crime there is. The street crimes unit, which the City Council, to its credit, had the guts to pay for last year, flows. Calls come in, the street crime guys chase and catch bad guys in high call areas, the crime goes away.

New patrol officers get paid about 30 grand. Add in the cost of a car and training and radios and shoe polish and guns and electric stun guns, and it costs around $100,000 per officer.

That's $600,000 for six cops.

The city budget for next year is $156.3 million.

The cost of six cops is about one-third of 1 percent of what the city will spend next year.

This is a city that will spend $135,000 next year to study a trolley system. It will spend $98,000 to study another trolley connecting the Textile Corridor and downtown.

Maybe the new cops who didn't get hired could take the trolley.

Your city will spend $34,000 and change for hybrid vehicles for the finance department. Maybe finance employees can drive around at 2 a.m. in their environmentally friendly cars.

In fairness, the trolley money and the electric car money are matches of grants. Grants are somebody else's taxes, sent here by the state or federal government, and your city tax money is thrown into the pot to make up the balance.

Your city pays people who teach kayaking. It pays people who cut grass and paint lines on ballfields. It pays people to bring businesses to downtown. It helps pay for festivals and parades. This is a City Council that debated whether to spend your money on a covered bridge over a creek.

York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant is elected. He is hired by voters who also call for service at 2 a.m. He argued like a cornered badger before the York County Council, which gives him his money. He talked of population growth and safety, and he got 16 new deputies combined for this year and next year.

Rock Hill did add six new jobs for next year. Two are police jobs -- paid for by a traffic grant. More people, more traffic, more traffic cops. Good for Rock Hill -- the city got somebody else's tax money to pay for safety.

Another new employee will work for the city court. Police Chief Gregory, who wanted six patrol officers but got thin air Monday, demanded more arrests from his cops when he was hired in 2003. He got them -- arrests are up from 3,652 in 2003 to 7,124 last year, according to statistics from the department. This year -- and we are less than halfway through it -- 3,198 arrests. More arrests mean more court cases.

The budget shows one new information technology person for utilities, a lab technician for utilities, and a maintenance person for utilities.

I guess if you live in the city and need help at 2 a.m., and that scoundrel is smashing your kitchen window but the patrol cops are busy helping somebody else across town, maybe you can call the computer room at the water plant.