Thursday, March 25, 2010

If Pat Quinn is trying to scare us into liking a tax hike, he picked the right area

Illinois government is facing particularly harsh times. The size of spending cuts that government will have to make is going to be large, and it is going to impact areas that political people usually would not even fantasize about touching.

Which is how I view the talk coming out of Springfield these days about layoffs of Illinois State Police troopers at such high levels that five of the 22 offices around the state will be shut down. Some officers will be reassigned to new areas, and existing state police districts will wind up encompassing larger areas.

WHETHER ONE WANTS to acknowledge this or not, it will have an impact on Chicago. This isn’t just a matter of rural towns with dinky local police departments that have to rely on the state police whenever they need advanced levels of law enforcement.

For one of the five offices that Illinois State Police officials say will be closed will be the one in suburban Des Plaines.

It is out of that office that the patrols maintained by state police over the North Side’s expressways are based. The South Side expressway patrols are based out of the state police office in Crestwood – which is slated to remain open.

But it is now going to have to cover a larger area, and most likely with fewer officers.

NOTICE I ZEROED in on the expressways. For that is the most common area in which Chicagoans encounter the Illinois State Police.

For the past 25 years, the state police have been in charge of chasing down speeders and drunken drivers and other misfits who happen to commit their acts while driving on the Kennedy or the Dan Ryan or the Eisenhower (Chicago’s lone GOP-named expressway).

But with five fewer offices and about 460 fewer officers (all as part of an effort to bring the state’s budget under control at a time when the national economic struggles are hitting Illinois particularly harsh), that has the state police thinking it is time for them to abandon patrols of the expressways.

They’d like to see things go back to the way they used to be – which means the Chicago Police Department having to maintain patrols of the expressway portions within the city limits, and all those individual suburban police departments that have an expressway passing through their boundaries having to take control of their portions of the roads.

IF IT READS like I’m implying such a mishmash of jurisdictions has the potential to create disaster, you would be correct.

It has always made so much sense to me that one law enforcement agency have jurisdiction over the stretch of the expressways that are meant to connect the various muncipalities of the Chicago area into one metropolitan area.

Having to keep track of the exact point on the Dan Ryan that someone does something considered illegal, then figuring out which police department gets to have responsibility/credit for the arrest is an invitation for too manyt cases to slip through the cracks.

What I suspect would really happen is that most suburban law enforcement agencies would merely give up on even trying to patrol the expressways within their town. Chicago might put a few officers to work driving along the 53 miles worth of interstates back and forth across the city during their shifts. But I would envision those patrols being so few that the odds of a speeding or impaired driver being able to go undetected on the expressways would be significant.

THERE IS ALSO the fact that those law enforcement agencies have enough of their own problems to address. They probably wish they could dump off some of their existing responsibilities on state police, instead of having to take on more duties.

Which is why Mayor Richard M. Daley is hoping he can persuade Gov. Pat Quinn to uphold the agreement that was negotiated back in the mid-1980s when Chicago turned over jurisdiction of its portion of the expressways to the state police.

He told reporter-types that the Chicago Police Department just can’t spare the number of officers needed to replace the 182 state troopers assigned to the soon-to-be shuttered Des Plaines district.

I would guess that Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart would scream something similar if anyone suggested that his officers ought to take over the expressway patrol (one way to get around that potential jurisdictional nightmare I alluded to earlier).

AT LEAST NOBODY is trying to claim that these cutbacks are somehow going to create an improved law enforcement picture for the Chicago area. Even state police Director Jonathen Monken admits these cuts will turn the state police into an agency that responds to emergencies, rather than tries to do things that are proactive.

We’re going to be hit with a legalistic mess, of which the only people who will see something positive are those crackpots who probably wish that police could be abolished and we could revert to a system where they’re allowed to shoot anybody who strays onto their property whose look they don’t like.

Think I’m kidding?

Some pundits already are wondering if these police cutbacks can somehow be used to bolster political support for the “concealed carry” measures that the gun lobby has sought for years. That thought may be even more scary than the thought of driving on the expressways with fewer police patrols.


EDITOR’S NOTES: More Chicago cops (,chicago-state-police-cutback-daley-032410.article) on the Kennedy or Stevenson? Or is it more likely that we won’t get any cops on the expressways (, except when a fatal auto accident occurs?

People already are trying to score political points ( off of the state police budget cuts.

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