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Cop Shortage?

The numbers tell a different story.

Police union chief Bob Beck didn't make the strongest argument on behalf of his soon-to-be-unemployed troops last week. In fact, he exposed some of the fatty in the city patty.

Mayor Campbell's proposed elimination of 700 jobs would shed 263 police officers. The mayor has tried to soften the blow by noting that Cleveland employs more cops per capita than most cities. According to federal crime stats for 2000, the city has 38 sworn personnel per 10,000 residents. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati manage with 31.

Beck told The Plain Dealer that those numbers didn't tell the whole story. One night in November, he said, only nine officers were available to patrol an area where 100,000 people reside.

But is Campbell to blame? In 2000, Cleveland ranked 42nd out of the nation's 50 largest cities in its ratio of officers deployed to answer calls. And Beck acknowledges that the shift he cited was short-handed, in part, because of officers taking sick days, vacations, and comp time. Between 130 and 150 of Cleveland's 1,800 badge wearers call in sick on a given day, the city says.

Still, Beck finds room to discredit the bosses. "They didn't offer anybody any overtime to work on their days off, and they found themselves with only nine people to answer calls on the night shift," he says. "Even if everybody would have been working that night, we still wouldn't have had enough to man the car plan at 100 percent."

Officers are about to greet a whole new plan.

LeBron's stock sinking
Rumor is that the national economy is rebounding, but Punch's wallet is still down for the count. Needing some extra scratch to survive a holiday drinking, er, shopping binge, Punch decided it was time to cash in on one investment that was supposed to be maturing nicely: LeBron.

More specifically, LeBron on the cover of Scene.

Yes, he graced the cover of this humble rag back in January 2002 under the headline "LeBron, Inc.: The making of a 17-year-old celebrity." A month later, he appeared on the cover of a slightly more famous -- if vastly inferior -- periodical, Sports Illustrated.

Soon, copies of Scene's LeBron issue were selling for $20 on eBay.

But these days, LeBron isn't selling the way he used to. When Punch recently put the same issue up for sale, eBay wasn't biting. Not even nibbling. LeBron didn't attract a single bid, even though the starting price was a lousy $1. The article author, Thomas Francis, even offered to sign the issue, but Punch decided that would just detract from its value.

So thanks a lot, LeBron fans, you cheap bastards. We only wish you could see the look on Mom's face when she doesn't get her usual pack of Winstons for Christmas this year.

Kiddie criminals
When the power suddenly went out last week -- all hail FirstEnergy! -- Richmond Heights High students whipped out their cell phones and began filing out. Dean of Students Kirk Koennecke, in an attempt to control the situation, asked one of the kids -- senior Michael Stotts -- not to use his phone. To which Michael eloquently replied, "Fuck you -- and take the fucking phone, then."

Under normal circumstances, Michael might have earned a brief suspension or a well-placed smack across the mouth. But this being Richmond Heights, the 17-year-old was handcuffed and carted off to jail for felonious use of the word "fuck" without a hall pass. It seems that, since the police department is housed next to the school, administrators are a bit trigger happy when it comes to calling the men in blue to solve school problems.

Michael's mom and other parents claim that kids are treated like criminals at the predominantly black school. They're taking it up with the Department of Education.

Of stardom lost
Trans Continental Talent hasn't operated here since late summer, when the local franchise of the international modeling company was booted from its third office in less than a year. Now the window of opportunity appears to be closing for Cleveland models with dreams of getting scammed.

Lou Pearlman, the boy-band hitmaker who bought the talent company last year and was immediately walloped by government investigations, has backed out of the business and cut his losses.

When we spoke with Pearlman last summer ("Runway to Nowhere," August 20), he said that before he bought his company, he was unaware that it had duped thousands of customers nationwide with false assurances of modeling stardom. Never mind that a moment with Google could have thrown up enough red flags to coordinate an aircraft carrier.

"If I would have known all of these things, I probably wouldn't have gotten involved in the first place," Pearlman said at the time, still adamant that his new gizmo could be fixed. "We've gotten so far deep in it, we figured we might as well clean it up."

Now Pearlman has stopped cleaning and thrown in the towel. He told the New York Post, "I walked into this thing, and it turned out to be a hellhole."

At last, Trans Continental and its customers are seeing eye to eye.

Flying keg party
As the cost of an education increases at two-and-a-half times the rate of inflation and Ohio State braces for cutbacks and layoffs, school big shots celebrated by dropping $4.8 million on a private plane. The Beechcraft King Air 350 accommodates nine passengers and a two-man crew, and is ostensibly for schlepping administrators around the country on business.

Though it isn't uncommon for colleges to own planes, it's hard to imagine any pressing business that couldn't be handled with something called a phone, given OSU's fiscal woes. So Punch has some ideas for defraying the cost. Why not turn the new albatross into a flying keg and rent it out for intimate beer-bong parties?

"Well, student organizations can charter buses and stuff," says Rachel of OSU's Transportation Service. "I'm not sure if the planes would be an option, but it sounds like a cool idea."

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