The police went knocking on doors on Saturday morning.
Not to find a suspect or answer a call, but to make their case for a 1-cent sales tax increase to support law enforcement.
The Illinois Fraternal Order of Police organized a rally followed by canvasing of St. Clair County to tell people why they should vote in favor of the tax on April 4.
“We cannot provide public safety without some kind of increase in revenue, and if we want to improve service, this is the only way,” said James Daniels, spokesman for the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police.
If voters approve, the temporary 1-cent increase would go into effect for 12 years and generate about $22 million per year to be used for public safety in St. Clair County. Plans for the extra revenue include expanding the jail, improving security at the courthouse, hiring more deputies and corrections officers, increasing probation services and additional training. A quarter of the funds would go to local municipalities in the county to help local departments.
The tax does not include purchases for cars, medications or groceries, Daniels said, and the money can only be used for law enforcement.
“It’s temporary. It’s targeted. And people can be sure the money is being used the way it was intended,” Daniels said.
It’s temporary. It’s targeted. And people can be sure the money is being used the way it was intended.
James Daniels, Fraternal Order of Police
The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the St. Clair County sheriff’s deputies, investigators and correctional officers, has pledged to track every dollar and will not hesitate to go to court if elected offices try to use any of the money for anything but public safety, Daniels said.
In 2014, voters rejected a sales tax increase to expand the jail. Since then, the sheriff’s department staff has gone down by 20 percent while the crime rate grew by 5 percent, Daniels said, and the starting pay for deputies is less than it was five years ago.
The current county sales tax rate is 6.6 cents on the dollar.
St. Clair County Probation Officer Paul Sullivan said his department has one of the highest and most violent caseloads in the state. The one officer who handles sex offenders on probation has 150 to 160 cases, Sullivan said. The revenue would be used to address the manpower shortage, buy a squad car and help officers buy equipment such as weapons and handcuffs.
Rodney Wilson, a corrections officer at the jail, said the revenue would be used to add a mental health unit in the jail. Wilson said the mentally ill come and go at the jail with little done to address the underlying problem. Staffing would also increase if the sales tax passes.
“This is about making St. Clair County a safer place where people will want to come shop and businesses will want to come,” Wilson said.
This is about making St. Clair County a safer place where people will want to come shop and businesses will want to come.
Rodney Wilson, St. Clair County jailer
Kiwan Guyton, president of the county’s union, said the sheriff’s department provides backup for every police department in the county. Sometimes there are two or three deputies on call for the whole county. Guyton said officers operate with backup 20 minutes away.
“It’s a safety issue,” Guyton said. “We need to put more officers on the street.”