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HAMMOND | With budget cuts calling for a reduction in the ranks of the city's police force, residents are worried fewer officers will patrol the city's streets.

But Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. and Assistant Police Chief John Doughty said with a recent restructuring, there are actually more officers on patrol.

Speaking at Wednesday's Mayor's Night Out event at Columbia Elementary School, Doughty said an internal reorganization in the department added patrol work to some formerly full-time community-oriented positions, getting more officers back on the streets.

"They were hired on to be cops, and that's what they're doing now," Doughty said. "We have more officers on patrol now than when the budget issues started."

Doughty said officers will be participating in programs such as the neighborhood crime watches and the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program in the city's schools -- just not on a full-time basis.

"We had to make some hard decisions," he said. "We love reaching out to the community. I'm not saying (community programs) were bad, but times have changed. We just don't have the money."

McDermott said departments across the city still are looking at ways to trim costs in light of a hefty projected budget deficit, but public safety is one area in which he said there will be no change in services.

"If I had my way, we'd hire 50 officers right now," McDermott said. "We've been given an almost impossible task."

McDermott said last week's shooting death of 14-year-old Sarina Tatum in Hammond highlights the need for additional visible patrol officers and he's pleased that some desk jobs within the city's Police Department have been eliminated, sending those officers back into squad cars.

Officers can't be everywhere, though, and McDermott said residents need to keep an eye out for suspicious activity in their neighborhoods, something Edison Community Crime Watch leader Janet Venecz echoed.

"We as citizens of Hammond have a responsibility to be the eyes and ears of our community," Venecz said.