SAN BERNARDINO - A community meeting scheduled tonight in response to the slaying of a 76-year-old woman in a usually quiet neighborhood aims to inform residents of the condition of the Police Department and how citizens can help prevent such crimes.

"There's a lot of concern in the community about the killing and just about general safety for residents," said Police Chief Robert Handy, who will speak at the event. "`Is it because of the bankruptcy?' That kind of stuff. (The meeting will) get rid of some of the rumors and some of the misplaced fear."

Handy will also share safety tips, including information about watching out for people who aren't normally in the neighborhood and reporting that.

Councilwoman Wendy McCammack said she called the meeting after hearing from many people worried about crime. The city has had three homicides in less than two weeks and 43 this year.

"There's lots of concern, and of course the concern goes citywide, which is understandable," said McCammack, whose ward includes the house where 76-year-old Mary Elizabeth Blaskey was found dead Nov. 14. "We're down 80 cops. It makes it tough to police a city this size, especially with the parolee population, to get a handle on the proper amount of patrols in every neighborhood."

Handy said he's been keeping a steady number of officers responding to calls but has had to cut back in other areas.

"We're feeling a strain," he said.


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"When I say we're doing OK, I mean we're doing OK with our core services, and that's providing emergency services, doing some of the follow- ups."

But proactive policing has scaled down as the Police Department has made cuts in other areas and many officers have left - particularly since July, when the city announced its intention to file for bankruptcy - with no money in the budget to replace them.

"Eventually, that is going to catch up to us," Handy said.

Handy didn't attribute the city's recent homicides to reductions. The biggest rash of homicides came in May - before the city announced its need for bankruptcy protection - when 12 people were killed.

But the homicide total for 2012 so far is much more than the 30 reported in 2011 or the 32 each for 2010 and 2009. The highest number of homicides in recent years was 58 in 2005, according to the Police Department.

The City Council is scheduled to decide Monday on a budget plan - part of a struggle to cut a $45.8 million deficit and maintain bankruptcy protection - that among other cuts would eliminate vacant positions until 260 officers remain. There are currently 270, and officials expect that will drop to 258 by January as officers continue to leave.

The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at Arrowhead Country Club, 3433 N. Parkside Drive.


Contact Ryan via email, by phone at 909-386-3916, or on Twitter @sbcitynow.