Area police chiefs gathered with legislators last week to raise awareness about the challenges they face in law enforcement and to request state support for local efforts.
Buffalo Grove Police Chief Steve Balinksi, Vernon Hills Police Chief Mark Fleischauer and Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran were among the representatives present at the meeting, which was open only to law enforcement officials and the media. They candidly shared thoughts about funding cuts, prescription drug disposal problems and pension issues, among other concerns, with State Rep. Sid Mathias (R-53rd) and Congressman Robert Dold (R-10th).
Prescription drug disposal
A big challenge for some local police departments lies in carrying out prescription drug disposal programs. Many departments sponsor collections in an effort to keep the medications off the streets and out of water sources.
However, officials told Mathias, there are only two facilities in the nation that are licensed by the Drug Enforcement Administration to handle such disposals. The closer one is in Indianapolis, so many departments periodically send officers with loads of medications to be safely incinerated there. The same conversation has taken place among members of the Lake County Underage Drinking Prevention Task Force, who have noted that this pulls officers off the streets and can lead to transportation and overtime expenses.
We’re collecting 400, 500 pounds of prescription drugs and we have no place (nearby) to take them,” said Mundelein Police Chief Ray Rose, who wondered if the state could secure funding to establish a more local facility.
“There’s got to be support coming from federal and state sources,” he said.
“It’s hard to believe a state the size of Illinois doesn’t have a facility for disposing of prescription drugs,” Fleischauer added. “If we have to send someone to Indianapolis, that’s five hours each way.
Mathias and Dold both expressed interest in addressing that issue.
“The question becomes, can we try to partner with some of the local manufacturers to say, “How can we do this best?” Dold said. “We might have somebody right here that can do it a corporate partner.”
Curran, in acknowledgement of limited state and federal budgets, stressed that law enforcement should be the last agency to have funding reduced.
“We should be cutting schools, we should be cutting social services, we should be cutting every area before law enforcement,” Curran said.
“What has happened in Illinois is most federal resources have gone to the City of Chicago and not the collar counties,” he added.
As far as the federal budget, Dold said, “My goal is to make sure we are growing the pie.”
Mathias said “we really need to reprioritize our whole state budget” and determine what expenses are essential.
“We want to make sure that what we do is not affecting the safety of our residents,” Mathias said.
As legislators examine pension reform options, Fleischauer also urged Mathias to keep local pensions separate from the state pension fund.
“To now all of a sudden take hold of that and combine it with the state funds … punishes the communities that have been good with their investments and taken it seriously,” Fleischauer said.
On another budget-related note, Balinski spoke of declining grant funds which make it harder for departments to send officers to task forces.
Buffalo Grove, for instance, belongs to a number of task forces, such as Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group (MEG), Lake County Major Crimes Task Force and Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS), among others.
Some task forces have officers assigned to them full-time — MEG officers serve for two to four years — while others call upon officers on an as-needed basis.
The task forces pool talent from different departments to handle such cases as homicides, gang activity or emergencies requiring SWAT teams.
“One of the success stories in Lake County is to be able to have these task forces,” Balinski said. But, he added, declining grant funds make it more difficult for departments to remain involved. The more task force members called to action, the fewer officers there are on the local streets.
“We have to deal with our community first,” he said.
The meeting was also attended by police chiefs and other representatives from the Riverwoods, Lincolnshire and Gurnee police departments. Many participants said they appreciated having a chance to bring their ideas and concerns to legislators.
“Just understand us, because our needs are not the same as the needs in Cook County,” Fleischauer said. He said he hoped that the Oct. 17 meeting would be the first in a series that would help give municipal law enforcement officials a strong voice with the government.
“We let the tail wag the dog. We let the City of Chicago dictate what we’re going to do because we don’t have a voice,” he said.
Mathias wondered if legislators should form a police caucus. The state already has a bi-partisan fire caucus, he said, composed of legislators who support fire personnel by considering issues facing the service.
He said he hopes to have another meeting with area police chiefs at the beginning of 2013. He will invite more legislators to participate and ask them to invite the police chiefs in their jurisdictions, he said.