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Police: Impact of new police station on nearby neighborhoods uncertain

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When the city reopens the old Zone 4 police station in January, it could mean better response times for the city's West End, where residents have complained of neglect since the station closed five years ago. But already there are concerns about how the reopening will affect service elsewhere -- namely in the southern neighborhoods served by the city's Zone 3 station, where more than 40 officers are being reassigned to the West End.

"We're going to have our problems," says Zone 3 Police Commander Larry Ross. "I can't say anything is going to suffer, or that anything's going to be better.

"[R]esponse time should be shorter for the West End," he points out. But "We're going to be stretched a little bit here."

Zone 3, headquartered on the South Side, currently has about 110 officers patrolling roughly 18 square miles south of the rivers. The zone covers 100,000 city residents living from Carrick in the east to Fairywood in the west.

But that will change come January, when the West End station -- now rechristened Zone 6 -- reopens. Zone 3's range will shrink by roughly a third, to 12 square miles. But its force will shrink by nearly 40 percent, as 43 officers are reassigned to the reopened station. And some are worried that Zone 3 officers might be stretched too thin.

"I'm worried about the manpower," Zone 3 Public Safety Council President Ken Wolfe says.

Wolfe says the city originally planned to spread the burden of opening the West End station across the entire city. "They could have varied [their selection] a little bit," he says. During a city-wide public-safety meeting, he says, Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson originally said "they were taking officers from all the zones" to staff the new station.

Donaldson doesn't deny that, but says just four officers will be reassigned from other zones. Each of those officers volunteered for the switch.

The city would have transferred officers from elsewhere "if it would have been needed," Donaldson says. And he points out that between them, the South Side and West End stations will be covering the same territory as Zone 3 is today. In that sense, Donaldson notes, "We didn't add anything to [Zone 3's] responsibility. All we did was divide its personnel."

In fact, some residents in Zone 3 don't expect much change -- and that's part of the problem.

"I don't really think [losing officers] is going to change things," says Robert Trakofler, 38, of South Side. "We've had a large force here [on the South Side] but it doesn't seem to have done anything."

"It doesn't matter if they're losing officers here or not," agrees Elaine Smith, 52, of the South Side. "That hasn't been a full station for years."

In fact, the closing of the West End station was just one part of a broader force reduction caused by the city's financial plight. "We thought we could meet the needs of the city by combining Zones 3 and 4," Donaldson says, adding that the merger eliminated the need for extra supervisors at the additional stations. But citywide, the force has dropped from a high of about 1,200 officers in the early 1990s to roughly 800 today.

Zone 3 is a case in point: The last time the West End station was open, Zone 3 had 80 officers. After the West End station reopens, however, Zone 3 will have only 70 officers, says Donaldson. And this time around, they will also be responsible for Brookline, Banksville and Beechview -- neighborhoods which used to be part of the old West End zone.

So why reopen Zone 4 at all?

"Communities want their own station," Donaldson says.

"There was a push through the mayor's office to open up Zone 6," Ross agrees. "West End residents really thought they were being forgotten."

Indeed, those residents are pleased. "There will be more police presence here," says Elmer Clark, president of the West End Elliot Citizens Council. "Now, you don't see police that much because they're running all over the place."

As for Zone 3, some help may be on the way: Ross says his zone could add a few officers once nearly 40 trainees graduate from the police academy by the end of 2008. Those graduates will be spread across the entire city, but while Ross isn't entirely sure what will happen after the West End reopens, he says, "[Zone 3] should do OK.

"We have our fingers crossed."

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