FRANKLIN COUNTY, Ohio — At a time when many area police departments can't hire officers fast enough, one is laying off its officers, all because of a failed levy.
The Franklin Township Police Department had 18 officers not long ago. Because of a failed levy, they now have 11. If a referendum isn't passed in November, they will only have five officers for a township of 10,000.
“It has to pass because we can't not have a police department. It will be like the wild wild west,” said Franklin Township Police Chief Byron Smith.
Smith has been the police chief in Franklin Township in west Franklin County for six years. He is one of the few officers left in the department.
A levy that pays for their continued operating budget failed in May.
“It went down by 48 votes,” said township trustee John Fleshman.
They are going to try again for a referendum in November.
“It would be half the size it is now. We would only be able to provide services for probably one shift a day, 5 days a week,” the chief explained, if the referendum does not pass.
“The sheriff's department will come, but what we are doing is priority ones. If someone steals your car and you call 911, we're not coming. We can't come,” Fleshman said.
The township is facing increased crime. Last month there was a homicide on Knob Hill East that left one man dead. Smith said the township is also facing issues because of the opioid epidemic.
“It's just going to ask for trouble to move into Franklin township because they are going to know that we know when they are going to be in and when they aren't going to be in,” Fleshman said.
The chief said the officers won't be able to do much crime prevention with those staffing levels.
“It would be completely ineffective. We would pick up what runs we can. It won't make a dent in what's going on. We wouldn't be proactive at all,” Smith said.
Smith said they are trying to educate voters about the referendum, especially at upcoming events like National Night out.
Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jim Gilbert said in a statement, "The Sheriff’s office is committed to supporting the Franklin Township police dept. and our current staffing level within the patrol division doesn't allow for regular patrolling of the township however, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office patrol division is responding to emergency calls only when no township officer is on duty."