Saturday, March 10, 2012

Do we need so many police chiefs?

There’s a bill pending these days before the Illinois House of Representatives; one that would make it easier for police departments in individual municipalities to be done away with and combined into larger law enforcement entities.

I heard about this particular bill earlier this week from a state legislator who absolutely detests the idea. He denounces it as a “bad bill” and makes it clear that he’s going to do whatever it takes to kill this concept off.

PERSONALLY, I THINK his effort will succeed – although not because of this individual legislator (who is way too low-ranking to have any such influence, which is why I’m not going to name him). It’s just that I can see his attitude when it comes to local police to be very pervasive among political people.

There’s no way they’re going to give up their local police departments – which make them feel like they are people of importance. After all, they have their own departments and their own chiefs who have to answer directly to them.

If their respective home communities got merged into some larger-scale law enforcement agency, it might very well show how insignificant some of these towns and villages truly are.

So for the time being, we likely can count on each and every ‘burg having its own police chief and its own law enforcement officers – anxiously patrolling their local streets to keep them safe from crime that they likely think spills over from surrounding communities.

AFTER ALL, ___________________ is far too fine a community to have criminals of its own, the local officials (fill in the blank yourself) will proclaim.


Because I have to admit that when I heard this particular legislator (who comes from Cook County) start attacking this particular bill, I couldn’t help but get motivated to think what a wonderful idea it truly is.

Perhaps it is because I come from Cook County, where our 129 municipalities run the gamut from Chicago’s 2.7-something million people to the communities that barely have 1,000 people.

HAVE YOU EVER been to Hometown, Ill.?

Not that this is a bash on Hometown, a southwestern suburb so tied into Oak Lawn that I’m sure many people passing through don’t even realize they are separate municipalities.

I also have seen many smaller suburbs where the local police department is a chief, a second-in-command (who usually carries the rank of Lieutenant) and a full-time patrol officer or two – backed up with many part-time cops who do their patrols to bring in extra money to bolster their “real” job.

I wonder what is truly accomplished – other than the fact that the mayor (usually a ‘village president’ in reality) of that town gets to say he has his own department.

PERHAPS WE’RE AT the point where we ought to merge all these local departments into one law enforcement agency. In fact, there are times when I think that the Cook County sheriff’s police ought to be patrolling all of the county – and not just the little patches of unincorporated area that exist.

Of course, that would require a significant upgrade in the budget the county sheriff gets. I’m sure Tom Dart wouldn’t be able to undertake such an effort on his current budget – although he’s already being asked to patrol the streets of suburban Ford Heights without any increase in funding.

Although considering that many suburban municipalities are having their own budget crunches these days and that the cash-consuming part of their budgets is their public safety agencies (police and fire departments), maybe it would cost the towns less money if a larger-scale entity were to do the patrols.

They likely could do it at a slightly lesser cost than it now takes to maintain individual police agencies in all those suburban towns.

PERHAPS IT SHOULD be only the largest of suburban towns (and the city of Chicago itself) that have their own police departments?

Then again, perhaps even that is a mistake. Take Miami and Dade County, Fla., where it literally is the equivalent of a county police that patrols the entire area. Maybe that’s something that city is doing right.

Besides, I have often heard those suburban officials complain about how they are susceptible to gang-related crime because those gang members know how to jump across suburban boundaries at-will – using jurisdictional issues to evade arrest for their actions.

Making an all-mighty Cook County police (or Chicago-area police, if you will) could help get around that, while also potentially making police structure more efficient.

THE ONLY ONE who really suffers is the politician – whose electoral ego will take a body check.

Then again, that probably is sufficient reason in the “real world” for legislators to vote against this (they don’t want to tick off the local political operatives who got them elected to their seats in Springfield in the first place).

So in the name of political expediency, the one who will take a body check this spring will likely be we, the people, when this bill withers away faster than Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attempts to have the General Assembly impose that registration fee on people who own handguns.


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