Crime is the No. 1 issue for most Belleville residents, and so not surprisingly it was a hot topic at the mayoral debate at Lindenwood University on Tuesday.
The three candidates all say they would like to have more officers on the police force. However, wanting something and paying for it are two different things. Currently, the mayor and City Council have decided that the city can't afford anymore officers.
If adding police officers is a priority, city leaders should figure out a way to make it happen. Maybe that means cutting elsewhere in the budget, conducting a forensic audit of various funds or redirecting TIF dollars. It might also mean finding ways to make the department operate more efficiently, for instance, by upgrading the police computer system on installing surveillance cameras at various locations.
While Belleville hasn't added patrolmen in recent years, it hasn't laid any off either as many cities did during the Great Recession. Today, staying level is almost like adding. In addition, the city put more officers on the street by not staffing the west end police station.
Some of the debate focused on whether talking so much about crime is constructive or fear-mongering. All city problems, including crime, need to be discussed openly; saying nothing doesn't make problems go away.
For example, two of the candidates stated at the debate that because Belleville borders East St. Louis, a city with high crime rates, the police face extra challenges. A few years ago, city politicians might have thought that but probably wouldn't have said it aloud.
People clearly are concerned about crime. Discussing it won't make the problem worse, but it may prompt solutions.