Federal report: Time to close 4 metro-east police departments?

News-DemocratJanuary 31, 2014 

— A U.S. Department of Justice study about crime in the East St. Louis area raises three solutions, including shutting down the Alorton, Brooklyn, East St. Louis and Washington Park police departments and either create a new standalone police district or have the communities contract for services.

The second solution calls for providing more training and technical assistance to the police departments.

And the third one calls for the departments to share support services such as training, personnel management functions, equipment purchases, maintenance and information technology.

The report was prepared by the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center for the new Metro East Police District Commission.

"We requested the (Department of Justice) to do a complete and thorough analysis of the four police departments," said St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly. "It gives us knowledge of the good, the bad and the ugly so we know where to move forward."

The commission was authorized in 2012 to provide oversight to the four police departments.

As far as dissolving the departments, the report notes the proposal would run up against a desire for local autonomy. However, the report states this plan would have "significant and sustainable impact on crime over time."

Kelly said replacing the departments with a new one would be a "huge cost."

"There simply aren't the funds for it," he said. "So shared services, joint policing, more cops, and training and high standards enforced by the commission is our best hope."

Findings in the study of the four towns include:

* The average violent crime rate is more than nine times the violent crime rate for the state of Illinois.

* The average homicide rate is more than 11 times the homicide rate for the state of Illinois.

* Budgets in the four departments have significantly lower budgets than in surrounding communities. The average police budget in the communities is $3,624 per violent crime as compared to $245,832 in surrounding communities.

* More than half of the population lives below the poverty line.

* The median household income level is less than half the state median.

* There is a widespread culture of corruption among police department staff and elected officials which hampers efforts to implement sustainable change.

Angela Jackson-Castain of the Diagnostic Center and Joseph A. Schafer, a professor and chair of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, recently discussed the report with members of the Metro East Police District Commission.

Jackson-Castain told the commission members that the four police departments, East St. Louis, Alorton, Brooklyn and Washington Park "are very small but you have a huge stakeholder base."

She said 130 people "were willing to engage with us." This leads to stronger community work and shows that the community is willing to support the commission's efforts, she said.

Schafer said that during his site visit in August, he looked at the budget sizes of the four departments and that of surrounding communities.

He said he looked "at how many violent crimes a year officers in the four departments are dealing with and saw a very big difference in comparison to other parts of the region."

Police officers and chiefs in the four departments noted they were dealing with a lot more violent crimes than other police departments.

Jackson-Castain said that "Our federal partners, (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Fireams and Explosive), (the Drug Enforcement Administration) and the FBI have one commonality and that is that these law enforcement agencies have broader jurisdictions, but a lot of their resources and money is spent in these four communities."

Public corruption was the No. 1 crime that the federal authorities exhausted a lot of resources on and this made it so "they could not focus on drugs and other problems," she said.

Commission members want to get input from the public on what they feel should be done. So, they want residents in the four communities to attend the commission's Feb. 28 meeting and express themselves about the Diagnostic Center's report.

The commissions meets at 9 a.m. on the fourth Friday of each month at the New Life Community Church at 1919 State St. in East St. Louis.

Roger Richards, former director of the Southwestern Illinois Law Enforcement Commission, agrees with Kelly that having the analysis data for East St. Louis, Alorton, Washington Park and Brooklyn police departments is "a great thing."

"We're addressing a lot of the needs. It's wonderful that we can get the (Department of Justice) to come in and do an analysis. Everybody has provided his thoughts on what should be done. This gives us fresh eyes and fresh opinions," Richards said.

Richards believes a big issue in the departments is funding. When he was a police officer in Fairview Heights, law enforcement was a priority. Richards said, "We had the money for training and to buy the best equipment."

The chairman of the Metro East Police District Commission, Calvin Dye, said, "I am excited and the public is excited about this commission. People feel something like this is long overdue. They have said it is time that someone come in and try to make sure they have quality law enforcement in every department."

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

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service