LAWRENCE, Ind. -
Lawrence police have expressed an interest in a possible merger with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
In the past month, the city of Lawrence has laid off 25 employees, including 20 EMTs from the fire department.
The police department hasn't had a raise in more than five years and now, Lawrence is cutting retirement benefits as it seeks to bridge a $2 million funding deficit.
"We're at 54 officers, 54 merit officers. You take a look at Richmond, you look at Columbus and they're the same size city, 46,000 or less, and they have 80 to 90 officers. So, right now, we're at dangerously unsafe levels working," said Tom Ashcraft, president of Lawrence Fraternal Order of Police.
"The officers are scared about losing their jobs," Ashcraft said. "You've got younger officers that want job security and then you've got the money involved. And they're scared the money is not going to be there two years from now."
The mayor's office has imposed a spending freeze on all city departments. The administration said it has no intention of jettisoning the police department to close a $2 million funding gap.
"(The mayor) has no desire to see any of our services go to Indianapolis or elsewhere," said Keith Johnson, spokesman for Lawrence Mayor Dean Jessup. "He wants to provide all these services and do them well. So, police officers, like all city employees, have to make a sacrifice."
The mayor's office has sparred for months with the Lawrence Common Council about how and where to make up the budget deficit.
"We think there are other things that we have suggested that haven't been put into effect yet," said Democrat Linda Treat, who is the president of the Lawrence Common Council. "And we would have liked to have seen those things tried before we lost our EMTs. And now, you lose our police department, you really don't have a city."
The Lawrence FOP said it plans to reach out to the Indianapolis City-County Council to explore possible avenues that could lead to a merger.