Facing a $1 million budget deficit, the Hyattsville City Council voted Monday night to remove $376,257 in funding for four vacant police positions.
Hyattsville Police Chief Douglas Holland said he learned just prior to Monday’s meeting about plans for the council to discuss the funding. Holland said the measure would reduce his department’s efforts to stem crime, particularly in commercial areas such as The Mall at Prince Georges.
“Despite the rhetoric, in my opinion, this motion would be a reduction in the police department, as those positions were funded in the budget,” said Holland, noting the positions had been approved in a prior budget cycle before being frozen.
Holland said the four positions included a captain, two patrol officers and an investigator.
Without the four positions, the department is allocated 40 positions, although three positions currently remain unfilled.
The council voted to approve the measure by a 6-3 vote; Councilman Timothy Hunt (Ward 3) was absent.
Councilman Eduard Haba (Ward 4) said the council should wait to see what impact having 40 filled positions will have before adding more.
“Next year, we can have this conversation again, and if there is a need to staff these positions, we could have that conversation to add those extra,” said Haba, who voted in favor of the measure.
Council President Candace Hollingworth (Ward 1), who also voted for the measure, said the council must balance budget issues with police needs.
“From the outset, for me, this was about trying to bridge a fiscal issue, a budget issue, and trying to make sure we have enough officers on the street,” Hollingsworth said.
Henry Watford, general manager for The Mall at Prince Georges, said the primary concern for the higher-end retailers is police protection.
“Their number one concern is safety. If you decrease that, I can promise you you will adversely impact business and the opportunity for growth,” Watford said at the meeting. “I would urge you not to reduce the department or keep it the same. If anything, we need to grow the police department.”
Holland said the majority of police complaints come from commercial establishments.
Resident David Marshall said the city’s population is growing and questioned the decision.
“If you’re going to raise the number of folks and lower the amount of protection, how does the math work?” Marshall said.
Councilman Patrick Paschall (Ward 3) said the department is currently understaffed.
“We need to get the police department actually up to 40, and we need to be very critical of any requests that come before this council this fiscal year, because we are going to overspend our budget,” Paschall said.
No other cuts were discussed during the Monday meeting. The council is scheduled to adopt the budget during its May 28 meeting.