The Pekin Police Department could be two officers short after a decision by Pekin City Manager Tony Carson to not fill the positions of two retiring officers to balance the general fund budget.
Or will they?
Cuts to the police department took center stage at Monday’s Council meeting with the heads of the fire and police unions laying out their case to the Council in hopes they would push the city manager to file two spots vacated by retirements.
The Pekin Fire Department lost three positions in the past few years. The police department and fire departments were both informed this year that there would be no promotions and no new hires, said Pekin Firefighters Local 524 President Tom Veatch.
Both union leaders told the Pekin City Council of the safety issues and ongoing drug battle in Pekin, but Mayor John McCabe said he was more worried about the words used than what was said.
“In regards to making cuts in public safety personnel, the cuts, they were simply the fact that we had people who retired or were dismissed and were not replaced,” said McCabe. “It wasn’t like we just said we’re cutting all these guys on the job. So when you use that word cut, sometimes it’s misleading.”
Carson said on Tuesday that there are no reductions in force.
“In Fiscal Year (20)17-(20)18, we did hire two police officers,” said Carson. “We didn’t hire any additional in fire, but we did hire two additional in police.
“When we had people leave, we did replace them. I can tell you one thing, that all the information you heard yesterday was not accurate. What’s accurate is we have in the budget that we are proposing to Council for (FY)(20)18-(20)19 that we have funded in the police department every position that’s currently working today, plus we have one person that’s in the academy that will be available in the next six to eight weeks. So they will have one additional person funded in the (20)18-(20)19 budget from a manpower standpoint.”
Carson said the fire department will be funded for the same manpower it is funded for this year. The fire department, he said, over the past 12 years had one retirement in the union ranks and one in management, which were not filed.
“So this thought that we’re reducing mass levels of safety forces is not accurate,” said Carson. “They’re at the same levels they have been in fire over the last many, many months.
On Tuesday, Pekin Police Chief John Dossey said he is still working out a way forward.
“As far as impact, that’s yet to be determined,” said Dossey. “We’re going through the process right now.
“From a department perspective, we’re trying to do the best that we can, and we have a group of dedicated officers who are continuing to be a part of that solution. I wish I had that looking glass to look forward. I just don’t know what the answer is to go forward, but we’ve been finding a way to deal with the issues, and we’ll continue to attack it.”
Pekin Police Benevolent Labor Committee Chairman Rick VonRohr asked the Pekin City Council at Monday’s meeting not to pass the proposed budget.
“The cuts to the police department are going to result in the cutting of two more police officers,” said VonRohr. “We already had two cuts, as you know, in June of last year.
“These cuts are going to potentially cause the department to lose a patrol supervisor and a patrol Sergeant. Sergeants play an important part in our police department. They are the first line supervisors.”
There were 60 drug arrests in January and February 2016. But as that changed for the worse, the drug task force was eliminated and retiring officers were not replaced. In January and February 2018, Pekin had 174 drug arrests — a 200 percent increase over the same months in 2016, according to the Illinois State Police Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
“I would love to come up here and tell you (the Council) it’s because we’re that much better,” said VonRohr. “It’s not — it’s because drugs are that much more prevalent.”
VonRohr said it is important for the Council to hear the facts.
“We’re in the grip of an opioid crisis, and you cannot turn on your television and not see it,” said VonRohr. “I know everybody here is aware of it.
“Since the cuts last year in June, (it) resulted in the dissolution of our drug task force people. The eight months prior to that we had 20 overdoses. In the eight months since we dissolved our drug task force, we’ve had 36. We’ve almost doubled our overdose totals. We are not here fear mongering. We are not here talking in the abstract. It is not, ‘If you do this, this may happen.’ I’m here telling you that this is happening in your community right now.”
VonRohr said the department has five police districts, so there are a minimum of five officers on the street.
“Off the top of my head, I can tell you we have more active drug houses in this town than we have officers on the street,” said VonRohr. He said the officers are doing the best they can to watch the houses used for illegal drugs and a reduction in force will make it more difficult. He told Council members he can talk to them about drug issues, but it’s a different issue when one of those people move in next door to them “or somebody in their life, which is what happens.”
VonRohr said the department and its officers take pride in “keeping the community safe and providing the highest level of professional service. And what we’re here today asking you is to have our backs, help us continue to provide that level of service, direct the city manager to go back to the drawing board and find another way that doesn’t harm public safety.”
Veatch said the fire department has 44 fire suppression personnel, three assistant chiefs and three office personnel, for a total of 50. Veatch said the department has been told that replacements for retirements would not be allowed this year.
The department responds with 12 firefighter to a house fire at this time.
“Anything less than what we have right now is detrimental to the citizens,” said Veatch.
Pekin resident John McNish spoke in favor of filling the two police positions.
“Is that disturbing — the cold facts,” said McNish. “All we can do is cut a police force and fire department, and yet again, we can hire all of the administration type of personnel we need. It’s disturbing — that’s where the cuts need to be, not for the people that are hitting the streets and doing the job everyday.”
Carson had no response at the meeting to the comments by staff members or residents, but Mayor John McCabe responded.