BAKER, LA (WAFB) - A local city that boasts being one of the safest in the state is facing what its top law enforcement leader referred to as a "public safety crisis."
The budget ax fell on the Baker Police Department last July. Chief Mike Knaps reports the cuts are hurting the community.
Lt. Avery Johnson made his rounds on Monday, with his eyes and ears on the road, keeping a close watch of people and their property.
"We try to patrol and patrol again by overlapping our city in sectors. It keeps us visible and constantly on the move," Lt. Johnson said.
Lt. Johnson's job got tougher last summer when the Baker City Council cut $250,000 from the police department's budget. The city lost two uniform patrol officers.
Johnson's presence is welcomed by the Yllanders, who have lived in the city since the 1960s. On this day, the couple stopped his patrol car to make a donation of stuffed animals for troubled children officers might encounter.
"Oh we cannot do without a full force. Baker is growing. We have a lot of new neighbors now and we can't do without our officers. They are just the best," Linda Yllander said.
A dozen patrolmen are still on the road. But Chief Knaps has had to shift his staff around to make it happen. For some officers, he said, that means working double duty.
"The biggest challenge is keeping our officers fresh," Knaps said.
Knaps said his officers are working so many hours, the department's overtime budget could actually dig the city a deeper financial hole.
"We're just one storm away from someone in the public to do something that forces us into an overtime situation that's going to put our overtime budget in a crisis," Knaps said.
Knaps said he has warned city leaders. The solution, he said, is in their hands.
"It's where the rubber is meeting the road. Either we do what it takes to continue to be the safest large municipality in Louisiana, or we make sacrifices and we lose that," Knaps said.
Knaps said he is working with city leaders to replace the two patrolmen he lost last July.
He added, the challenge then will be finding trained officers to fill those jobs.