The Ashland Police Department will no longer investigate car collisions when no one is hurt or vandalism when there is a low chance of solving the crime if proposed budget cuts go through.

The Ashland Police Department will no longer investigate car collisions when no one is hurt or vandalism when there is a low chance of solving the crime if proposed budget cuts go through.

People who call the police because of a neighbor's loud party or barking dog would also get slower responses. And rather than sending a police officer out to take a report about a stolen bike, the department may just have a records clerk talk to the bike's owner over the phone.

The bulk of calls to the Ashland Police Department involve those types of minor issues. But as the police department deals with years of staff reductions and more proposed cuts in the coming fiscal year, it will focus more on emergencies where people could be injured or killed, or situations where a thief is in the midst of stealing property, according to Police Chief Terry Holderness.

But he still had this message for residents who are facing non-emergency problems: "Everybody should call. It just might take us longer to get there."

Holderness said residents will have to have more patience when it comes to issues that affect their quality of life.

The Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee is prioritizing city services related to emergency response and basic public health and welfare needs as it looks to reduce spending. The committee reviewed the police department's budget on Wednesday night and will begin making decisions about the city-wide budget next week.

Ashland City Administrator Martha Bennett has proposed an $80.9 million budget for the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1. That's down from this fiscal year's adopted budget of $95.2 million.

The police department budget would fall from nearly $5.8 million this fiscal year to $5.4 million for the coming fiscal year.

Budget cuts in prior years have left the police department with three fewer officers. Those positions will not be filled and a full-time records clerk would be cut to part-time.

Although Holderness said he is short on police officers, he is still planning to turn one police officer into a detective because the department now has three detectives — a number he said is insufficient.

When police get a call about vandalism but no one saw the crime occur and there is little evidence, Holderness said police would no longer prepare a full police report on the crime or report it as a statistic to the state.

Police will take photos of graffiti and keep files of photos to try and identify repeat taggers, he said.

As for traffic collisions, Holderness said if drivers are able to pull off the road and exchange information and no one is taken to a hospital, police will not do an investigation. He said the issue of deciding who is at fault in a collision is a civil matter involving drivers and their insurance companies.

Already, police only respond to issues like dogs barking and loud parties when they have time. But instead of an officer showing up after about 20 minutes, no one may arrive for a few hours, Holderness said.

Residents also may face the frustrating situation more often of having an officer pulled away by an emergency when he or she has just arrived at a house or is in the midst of talking to a resident, he said.

When it comes to domestic disputes, police will still respond quickly because those situations often involve emergencies, he said.

Holderness said the police department will keep using its small downtown station, which supplements the main station on East Main Street. In the first six months of downtown station operations, calls to police to handle downtown problems have dropped 47 percent.

"The best type of emergency is the one we don't have to respond to because they don't occur," Holderness said.

To keep a visible presence downtown, the department may have a records clerk staff the downtown station instead of a police officer, he said.

The police department has applied for an economic stimulus grant to try and win funding for an additional police officer, Holderness said.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.