Hundreds of officers facing layoffs learn their fates

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PHOENIX -- Residents throughout the Valley are wondering if public safety could be in jeopardy as the Phoenix Police Department gets ready to eliminate a potentially large chunk of its staff -- some 400 jobs -- in an effort to ease the city's budget crisis.

The city is looking at a budget shortfall of $245 million through the end of June 2011.

Up to 12 percent of the employees of the Phoenix Police Department are at risk of layoffs or demotions. That's about 400 jobs and between $68 and $70 million in spending. In addition to the layoffs, some officers who do keep their jobs could be facing demotions and pay reductions. Transfers are also a possibility for some.

"We've all kind of prepared ourselves to a degree, that this is imminent," said Sgt. Jon Howard on Wednesday. "It's going to happen. It's a reality. ... Almost every squad out here is going to lose at least some people."

Howard is a supervisor, but by the time the cuts are finalized, the 15-year veteran could be demoted back to street patrol.

"We're all doing everything we can to minimize it, and to avoid it altogether, ultimately. But we don't think that's going to be possible from the officers' standpoint. [Thursday], I think finally guys will be able to take a deep breath and start planning their futures."

The layoffs will be based on seniority rather than performance.

The police department is not the only one faced with making difficult decisions. Cuts are expected citywide.

Phoenix is just one Arizona city that's having to do this. Surprise and Buckeye eliminated nearly 30 jobs between them earlier this month, while Avondale wrapped up a third round of layoffs in December. Tempe is facing its first layoffs in its 115-year history. About half of those layoffs will likely come from the police department.

Phoenix is not relying just on cuts to close the massive shortfall. It's also considering a 2 percent food tax to raise money.

The city will be hosting a series of community meetings in February to allow the public to weigh in on the budget proposal. The first one is slated for Wednesday, Feb. 10 at Carl Hayden High School.

The Phoenix City Council will make its final vote on the budget in March.