Official: Neighborhood police team could be brought back
By Bob Okon email@example.com August 13, 2012 8:26PM
Updated: September 15, 2012 6:14AM
JOLIET — City Manager Thomas Thanas said Monday that the neighborhood police team could be back in place next year if Joliet hires enough police officers.
News last week that the Neighborhood Oriented Police Team was being disbanded brought a quick response from community organizations that have worked with the special unit to deal with crime and neighborhood problems.
The Unity Community Development Corp., a network of neighborhood groups on the near West Side and East Side of the city, sent a letter to city officials Thursday calling for more police and a return of the neighborhood unit.
“I believe if we get our staffing levels up we’ll look toward reinstating NOPT,” Thanas said.
He acknowledged, however, that the return of the Neighborhood Oriented Police Team depends on how many police are hired and the police department’s decision on how best to deploy available officers.
Police Chief Mike Trafton could not be reached for comment.
Thanas said neighborhood police were redeployed after he called for tighter control of overtime costs in the police department. The city is trying to scale back payroll and overtime costs that officials say has been a major cause in putting the city on a pace to a projected $2.2 million at year’s end. Thanas said he wants to avoid that deficit by controlling costs.
The city plans to hire more police officers next year but has not yet shown how it will pay for them in the 2013 budget. The number of officers to be hired will be determined when the budget is completed by early December. Thanas said new officers could be hired in the first quarter of 2013.
The Joliet Police Department is down approximately 60 positions since 2008, largely because of the number of officers who took advantage of an early retirement incentive.
The United Community Development Corp. letter to Trafton describes the neighborhood policing program, which embeds designated officers in certain neighborhoods, as “an important and effective bridge” between the police department and neighborhood residents.
The letter expresses understanding that the city’s budget problems drove the decision to suspend neighborhood policing, “but we hope the city understands how vital it is to its neighborhoods and the city as a whole to put neighborhood officers back on the street as soon as possible.”
United president Mac Willis said Monday that the organization plans to raise awareness of what has happened to the neighborhood police team.
“It’s much needed in our communities that have challenges,” Willis said. “It’s important for our neighborhood councils to have one-on-one contact with law enforcement as well.”
Thanas said police officers will continue to attend neighborhood meetings, which has become a standard practice since the neighborhood police team was put in place.