Letters to the Editor

Belleville is not an unsafe town

As the current president and a 13-year member of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Local Lodge 226, I thought it important to address the false idea of Belleville being an unsafe town. This claim has been made recently in the local mayoral election, and it disparages the great men and women who work as police officers in Belleville, and their ability to fight crime. It is my duty to defend those officers, their work effort, and their commitment to keeping Belleville safe.

Unfortunately, there will always be those who will reach for the low hanging fruit and attempt to capitalize on the fears of the public. One of the easiest ways to do this is through the use of crime. This is especially true for some who seek political office, and have little else to build a platform on. Either through dishonesty or ignorance, they knowingly rely on incomplete data, or data that is not taken in context to create a misleading perception that crime is high. For example, it is dishonest to use crime statistics from realty websites that collect referral fees from realtors, and can use their websites to “steer” home buyers to specific neighborhoods with specific pricing.

What these and most crime statistics do not take into account are the numerous crimes (burglaries, thefts, etc.) committed by the same person(s) over a short period of time in concentrated areas (neighborhoods). When the suspect(s) are caught and arrested, those same batch of crimes suddenly see a dramatic decrease. This scenario is quite common.

Those who ignore the big picture, and view the world through a narrow lens will unequivocally state that any spike in criminal behavior is a sign that the sky is falling. If this were true for Belleville, its citizens would not see the continuous retail expansion Belleville is seeing at Belleville Crossing, Green Mount Commons, and now the Shrine. And let us not forget Lindenwood University and SWIC and their continuing expansion and presence in Belleville.

While Belleville has home grown crime, it also neighbors communities that have had a history struggling with crime and stunted economic growth. That crime doesn’t relegate itself to the communities in which it originates, but often spills over into neighboring towns. Belleville is not immune to this. But, thanks to a phenomenal police department, Belleville is not helpless to it either.

Crime stats from the FBI’s UCR is based on a population of 100,000. This is unfair to towns that fall below that threshold. The final numbers on any crime stat are then always inflated to match the 100,000 per capita formula. The FBI itself warns against using its UCR stats to rank a town’s crime (https://ucr.fbi.gov./word) due to the numerous factors that influence crime (https://www.ucrdatatool.gov/ranking.cfm).

Complaints about the staffing level of police officers has also been mentioned recently. To say that the police department only staffs five police officers for a patrol shift is dishonest. Illinois F.O.P. Local Lodge 226 is a police union with a collectively bargained agreement (contract) with the city of Belleville (https://www.belleville.net/DocumentCenter/View/2272). I highly encourage everyone to read it on the city’s website. Section 23.01 “Staffing” should be paid close attention to. While the union has fought for and agreed to minimum staffing levels set at no less than 5 officers (within certain parameters and time periods), every patrol shift is scheduled to start with all of its members (normally 10) prior to officers using vacation or sick time. To suggest otherwise is being dishonest.

Like every other town and city across the world, Belleville will always have crime. That crime will ebb and flow along with the numerous external forces that influence crime. As previously reported by the BND, crime is down since 2010 (https://www.bnd.com/opinion/editorials/article120671303.html#storylink=cpy). Know this citizens of Belleville; your town is not unsafe. Crime is not out of control! Your police department is committed to keeping Belleville a safe community and a community that people and business want to be a part of. Crime was the No. 1 priority to your police department long before it became a campaign slogan! If one were to take a moment and compare Belleville of 2017 to that of 2004, it’s without a doubt clear that the city of Belleville is headed in the right direction! Why would it change course now?