Joliet disbanding neighborhood police unit
By bob Okon email@example.com August 7, 2012 10:18PM
Updated: September 9, 2012 6:25AM
JOLIET — The city is disbanding its neighborhood police unit as it continues to cut special details to put officers on the streets amid a manpower shortage.
The end — at least for now — of the popular neighborhood police program in Joliet has come to light amid a controversy over the use of federal funds to hire firefighters while the police department is down 60 positions. Some neighborhood organizations are just finding out about the end of neighborhood policing, which is scheduled to take effect at the end of next week.
Two neighborhood leaders were at this week’s city council meetings calling for stepped-up police presence to thwart crime in the neighborhoods.
“It’s not apparent to us the savings of pulling neighborhood policing out of the neighborhoods,” Roger Thompson with the Cunningham Neighborhood Association told the council on Tuesday. “We just don’t see the economy of it.”
Thompson said his group has even had trouble getting an officer to come to this week’s neighborhood meeting, a practice that has been standard in the past.
On Monday, Tammy Carson with the Forest Park Community Association told the council that violent crime is creating new fear in the neighborhood.
“Innocent people and children are being gunned down,” Carson said. “Senior citizens are afraid to leave their homes. Parents are scared to let their children outside.”
The neighborhood representatives coincidentally have appeared as the council has debated the use of a $2 million federal grant to hire eight new firefighters. The council on Tuesday tabled a decision on the grant for a second time so it could find out whether accepting the money also would mean Joliet would have to replace any firefighters who retire regardless of shortages in police and other personnel.
Councilman Robert O’Dekirk has been outspoken in questioning the wisdom of hiring firefighters while the police force is understaffed.
“We absolutely have a manning problem,” O’Dekirk said Tuesday.
In addition to the elimination of neighborhood policing, O’Dekirk said, some officers in a special detail created because of a citywide burglary problem have been reassigned to patrol units to keep the streets covered.
The city is making plans to hire more police officers but not until 2013. The number of police officers has not been determined.
The numbers of Joliet police officers and support staff have dwindled because of early retirements and attrition since the city began to tighten its budget when the economic recession hit in 2008. Early retirement incentives were offered throughout city departments, but police took advantage of the program more than other employees.