Will Belleville hire a new police officer?

News-DemocratApril 13, 2014 

— Mayor Mark Eckert and Finance Director Jamie Maitret said Friday the city will consider hiring a new police officer and moving an officer to the Crime-Free Housing program this fall depending on the budget.

A new hire would bring the Police Department to 85 sworn officers.

Still, Eckert said, based on what Police Chief William Clay needs, the city's priority isn't hiring more officers right now -- it's a new police station.

Clay said it's worth noting that, from a management perspective, in order to put one more officer on patrol means, the city needs six employees to fill that 24-hour position.

City officials announced in February the $3.1 million purchase of the Bank of Belleville at 720 W. Main St. with plans to retrofit the building into a police station for another $7 million.

A new facility will free up manpower in a way that will make it seem like the city has more officers on patrol, officials said.

The layout of the existing station at 101 S. Illinois St. means that a shift commander needs to be in the building, Clay said.

Those in custody have been known to repeatedly flush or clog toilets to flood their cells, which are on the floor above and directly over the sergeant's desk and telecommunications center.

The new building will solve this problem, freeing the shift commander to patrol.

Eckert believes a new station with the space to have training will mean that officers can stay in town for some seminars, cutting down on travel costs.

Maitret said the decision to hire three community resource officers for $27,000 this year also frees up a patrol officer's time spent picking up lunches for prisoners, enforcing parking meters and other tasks.

Maitret said the city needs to hold off hiring officers until it's clear what the actual costs are of remodeling the new police station and how other sources of money shape up later this year.

Some councilmen, such as Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden, have wondered how the city will make good on hiring more officers.

Last year, in deciding whether to extend the 0.25 percent sales tax increase, city leaders discussed using the estimated $1.2 million extra in revenue to hire four police officers.

Before the council voted to extend the tax increase, some aldermen tried to amend the proposal to require that the revenue from the extension go directly to hiring officers. The council majority voted down the effort by Hayden, Ward 6 Alderman Bob White and Alderwoman-at-Large Lillian Schneider.

City leaders said then that the hires might be possible with revenue from the tax extension and if the city gets a federal Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services grant.

The city since learned it did not get another COPS grant and, while money from a previous COPS grant ends this year.

The city hired four officers in December 2010 and January 2011 using money from a COPS grant, which helps pay the officers for three years. Now the city has to pay the full cost for these officers.

Eckert said some aldermen also forget that the council passed several new initiatives since talks of the 0.25 percent sales tax increase extension.

This includes getting a new Freedom of Information Act requests management system, hiring a new GIS coordinator in the Economic Development Department and implementing a new police records management system.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 618-239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDJLee.

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