I’m not sure what to make of the recent decision by the police department in Wheaton, Ill., to cut down on the calls they will respond to.
Police say they have a limited budget, and they want to ensure they can afford to respond to serious crimes when they occur. Yet anyone who looks at the crime rate for the seat of government for DuPage County will see this is a town that has little serious crime.
IS THIS JUST a case where the local officials are so strapped for cash that they really can’t afford a police department? I don’t know that for a fact, but it would seem that way.
How serious is the situation in the town that likes to think of itself as the home to the Belushi family and the Rev Billy Graham (an alumnus of Wheaton College)?
WBBM-AM radio reported this week about the Wheaton situation, quoting police officers as saying that as of June 1, they will no longer respond to traffic accidents occurring on private property – unless people are injured.
In which case, the first call should be to the paramedic, with police following along to figure out if someone got hurt because of someone else’s negligence.
POLICE SAY THEY also will no longer bother showing up if someone locks themselves out of their car – unless in can be shown that getting that particular vehicle open immediately will save someone’s life.
In theory, I can understand the motivation behind these particular changes.
Accidents on private property are usually incidents that do not result in any kind of criminal charge, or even a ticket. So perhaps it is justified for police to say they have more important things to do than to send an officer out to the scene – just to collect information for a police report that the insurance companies ultimately want to see.
Police in Wheaton say those motorists should just report the incident to their insurance companies directly.
AND AS FAR as someone locking themselves out of their car (which I did once in DuPage County), perhaps someone should call a locksmith – rather than assuming that the police should handle such activity.
Yet I can’t help but remember the time I was locked out of my car, and a police officer ultimately broke in for me. What made the incident comical was that I was a reporter-type that day, covering a presidential event (George Bush the elder) out in the Chicago suburbs.
So I’m the guy who had a local police officer break into his car, while several Secret Service agents observed to ensure that neither the police officer nor I posed a threat to the president.
I can understand how that was a lot of wasted manpower. I can kind of see Wheaton’s point for not wanting to have to “jump” every time someone screws up and shuts the car door without removing their keys from the ignition.
YET IT’S THE claim by Wheaton police officials that such changes will free up officers to do more important things that makes me wonder. What are these “more important things?”
I have always been under the impression that Wheaton (a municipality of some 54,000 people – about 88 percent white) was a fairly low-crime place where these minor actions comprised the bulk of local law enforcement’s daily activity.
A look at some of the crime “statistics” shows a community where 1 murder and 5 rapes in any given year makes that year particularly violent.
Burglaries and thefts appear to comprise the bulk of criminal activity in Wheaton (with an average year consisting of a few hundred such incidents). There have been times when I have wondered if a place like Wheaton (like many of the couple hundred other suburbs that surround Chicago) would be better off doing away with the idea of a separate police department.
SERIOUSLY, WE OUGHT to county sheriff’s departments more authority, turning them into regional law enforcement entities. If a place like Wheaton, which many people think of as a wealthy suburb (median income in 2000 was $73,385 and median house value was $222,100), is having trouble funding a police department, perhaps someone in a position to do more ought to take over.
I literally have wondered about the logic of every single municipality in Cook County feeling the need to have its own police chief and uniformed officers – particularly since many of those smaller towns usually have only one or two full-time officers, and the rest being part-time cops whose professional competence becomes the butt of local jokes.
But I also realize that having one’s own police department is a sign of independence, allowing each municipality to feel a jolt of pride that it can look out for itself.
Even though a sheriff patrolling all the towns in their respective county could probably do a more professional job of protecting the public, I’m fully aware that no local official is going to be willing to consider doing away with the local police.
SO THAT MEANS this new attitude in Wheaton is likely to become the trend of the future, since Wheaton is far from the only municipality that faces financial constraints in these tough economic times.
We’re going to get police departments that deal with smaller budgets by doing less and less, to the point where someday a call to the police will warrant the response, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Police don’t want to waste time on minor incidents. Is this the beginning (http://www.wbbm780.com/Wheaton-Police-To-Cut-Back-On-Minor-Calls/4280401) of a new cost-cutting trend among law enforcement agencies? Here's what Wheaton Police themselves have (http://www.wheaton.il.us/news/pressreleases/detail.aspx?id=4746) to say about the matter.