Washington Park police chief: Disband my force

News DemocratJuly 25, 2013 

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The police chief in Washington Park is working to have his department disbanded, and the mayor says it might happen.

Shortly after he was appointed in May to head the cash-strapped village's police department, Chief Aubrey Keller began suggesting to village officials that the department be abolished. He made the same recommendation in June to the Metro East Police District Commission, a state-created body that oversees police in Washington Park, East St. Louis, Brooklyn and Alorton.

"The Washington Park Police Department has a host of problems," Keller said.

The problems include a money shortage. The village has missed employee payroll on a number of occasions, and the Village Board recently voted to lay off all its paid firefighters, except for the fire chief, opting to go for a volunteer fire department.

Washington Park Mayor Ann Rodgers acknowledged to a reporter that disbanding the police department is being discussed among city leaders. She said the financial situation in the village is very bleak and a number of things are being looked at. She said nothing is final at this time.

Who would provide police service if the department is abolished?

Keller said Washington Park has a mutual-aid agreement in with the surrounding municipalities and with the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department and Illinois State Police. Keller said the village has never had a problem with any of those entities helping out when they are needed.

The county's top law enforcement official, State's Attorney Brendan Kelly, said abolishing the police department might be the best move for the village.

"Regional consolidation and reconfiguration of law enforcement have been successful in other parts of the United States. We have to overcome old attitudes about turf and put public safety first," Kelly said. "It's the only way we will ever have economic and social justice in communities like Washington Park."

Sheriff Rick Watson said Thursday he's aware of the possibility of the Washington Park department being disbanded, but has not yet seen any specific proposal. He said the sheriff's department would need more deputies if it has to take over the police duties in Washington Park.

"Even if they said tomorrow that they want to do this, it would take months for it to be put in place, before we would be able to satisfy any agreement," Watson said.

Keller said the department's other problems include a staff shortage, which only leads to overtime costs.

"Considering overtime costs for the police department at the rate of time-and-a-half versus paying a man straight time, it's a no-brainer, paying straight time is the way to go," Keller said.

He declined to say how many officers the department currently has.

Keller also said the department's jail is not in compliance with state standards.

Keller is a former assistant police chief with the East St. Louis Police Department and has worked in law enforcement for 22 years. He retired from the East St. Louis Police Department in October 2011 and took over as Washington Park's police chief on May 7.

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.

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