City says no decision yet on police department
By Fred Arnold Telescope publisher
A group of nearly 40 people packed City Hall Monday to hear an official account of what the future of the Belleville Police Department might be. And while most in the room thought it was a “done deal” that the police department was going to be eliminated, Belleville Mayor Blaine Miller said no decision has been made.
“We have not made any determination on what is or is not going to happen with the police department,” he said. “Tonight we’re here to have a study session and have some discussions on what the future might be.”
Mayor Miller said the issue was initially raised by the community itself. He said a community survey showed more than 100 responses that the issue of combining the police department with the Republic County Sheriff’s Department should be reviewed. The surveys were not either pro or anti-police department, just that the issues be “looked at.”
“When the issue of law enforcement came up five to six years ago we knew we had some retirements coming,” Miller said. “And when that started to happen we knew that would be the time to re-examine the department.”
Since that time former chief of police Gary Frint has retired and the mayor noted that another officer retirement is anticipated this spring.
Pro and con comments
During Monday’s study session several community members voiced their opinion regarding the future of the department. Vonda Cooper read a long string of Facebook posts echoing support for the department from multiple people, adding she hoped the department would be left intact. Arlene Clayton said she believed the department should be absorbed from within the sheriff’s office citing that a community of Belleville’s size does not need both law enforcement agencies
Chuck Westin said that while he was for now supportive of continuing the department, he would encourage the city council to conduct a full and thorough study before making any decisions.
“What I think could change, I think we need to have more information first,” he said. “Maybe we don’t need a police department, but when we do it will be much too late.”
Mayor Miller agreed that a more comprehensive study needs to be conducted. He said the specter of taxes and expense does need to be considered when weighing any decision. He reported talks with the sheriff’s department have taken place in the past and it is widely believed by the sheriff’s department that there would be no cost savings from a consolidation.
One member of Monday’s crowd asked why no one from the sheriff’s department was at the study session since any consolidation effort would involve county law enforcement. “They knew what was going to be on the agenda tonight and could have chosen to come just like anyone else,” the mayor noted.
“It does bother me about the taxes that the people in the city limits of Belleville pay for law enforcement,” Miller said. “There is no disputing that the people of Belleville are double taxed for protection, paying both city and county dollars.”
“Before we add staff back we need to figure out if we are spending law enforcement dollars in the best, most efficient manner possible,” the mayor added. “We need to look at all of our options before making any kind of a move either to keep the department as is, expand the department, downsize it or whatever.”
No decision will be made in the short term regarding the status of the police department. City leaders agreed to hold off any further discussion on the topic until their fi rst meeting in March to allow more time for gathering information.