What does it cost to stay safe?

At the top of Mayor Nutter's latest cut list is police. After Council didn't act last week on his soda-tax proposal, Nutter said he would have to chop $20 million from the budget for the next fiscal year to ensure he has enough cash to pay the bills - including slashing $4.5 million from the Police Department.

That would mean canceling two scheduled Police Academy classes of about 130 recruits each. The city has about 6,600 uniformed police officers but that is expected to drop to about 6,400 through attrition over the next year without the two classes. Nutter said last week that the move would "unfortunately have an impact on the street." And John McNesby, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, said that if Nutter "cuts again, people might as well lock their windows and doors."

But how big an impact would it really have? "It's perfectly manageable. We did the same thing in 2004," said Phil Goldsmith, who was managing director under Mayor John Street. "What it really requires us to do is manage better. The less resources you have, the better you have to manage."

The city is already down from the roughly 6,900 officers on the force in 2001. Nutter pledged as a candidate to hire 500 officers to get the city back to that kind of police strength, but budget constraints have halted that pledge.

Still, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has managed to increase the number of cops in patrol jobs by several hundred. And the homicide rate has declined, hitting 305 last year, down from 333 in 2008.

Everett Gillison, the deputy mayor for public safety, said that he and Ramsey would continue to look for ways to keep officers on the streets.

"The city of Philadelphia is safe. We've had some very good strides over the past years," Gillison said. "We have to continue what we're doing to drive down crime."

Patrick Carr, a sociology professor at Rutgers University who studies crime and violence, said that delaying classes could be manageable in the short-term, although not ideal for a long period.

"You do want younger people and you do want that fully consistent flow of younger officers coming on. They are the guys who will be assigned to the higher crime areas," Carr said. "If it becomes three or four classes [canceled], it becomes something that has potential to do harm."

This cut also poses a political challenge for Nutter. As a candidate, he boldly promised he wouldn't run for re-election if, by 2010, he couldn't roll back the murder rate to its 2002 total of 288, the city's lowest since 1985. The reduction in classes could make it harder to achieve that.

His other planned cuts include closing two fire companies and dropping hours at branch libraries to four days a week. Officials yesterday said that those cuts would likely take effect in July.