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Wanted: More police for DeKalb

Published: Saturday, March 23, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, March 23, 2013 11:54 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
Sgt. Mark Tehan (second from right) addresses fellow police officers during a roll call meeting at the DeKalb Police Department Wednesday in DeKalb.

DeKALB – The city of DeKalb has 1.3 police officers for every 1,000 people, a ratio lower than all other state university cities in Illinois.

But DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery's concern does not start until the phone rings. 

Although the population held steady, calls for service increased from 38,803 in 2011 to 40,908 in 2012. Looking at the number of calls per officer, DeKalb's was double that of Urbana-Champaign's, the state's largest university town. 

Lowery said the 647 calls per officer last year showed the department needs more officers if it hopes to become a proactive force rather than a reactive one. 

"I have never been part of a department where they do more with less. I don't know how they do it," Lowery said of his officers. "The big dilemma is that you are so buried in responding to calls for service that all you do is react. You never get ahead of the game, ahead of the cycle of crime."

To combat the problem, Lowery said he planned to ask the DeKalb City Council for more officers this coming fiscal year, though he did not want to say how many he would request until he makes his formal presentation to aldermen.

The department has 61 officers including Lowery, and is authorized for 63 this year. Lowery said the problem is two of the officers on staff are still training and the two open positions could take a year to fill because of the police academy and training process.

With DeKalb's force operating at 2007 strength levels, Lowery said he is in the process of reorganizing the department to place greater emphasis on patrol units using a "cops on dots" philosophy – targeting high-crime areas and attempting to maximize untapped resources.

Programs such as the soon-to-launch iWatch and online crime-report filing system for residents could give officers more time to spend on police work and less focused on administrative tasks, Lowery said. He also said partnerships with the Northern Illinois University Police Department will be crucial moving forward.

"I think we're closer together than we were before, but we still have a ways to go," he said of the relationship with NIU. "The more we work together, the more effective we will be in all aspects of this."

The partnership and alternative resource concepts already have been used in some smaller police departments in DeKalb County.

Ty Lynch, police chief of the Genoa Police Department, said his department relies on the assistance of eight part-time officers to supplement the six full-time officers.

He said the department became more reliant on that method after the expiration of a federal grant that allowed the city to pay more officers. But as Genoa's population climbs to more than 5,100, Lynch said there would likely be a need for more people in uniform.

"A lot of nights we try to have a part-time officer overlapping and working from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. or starting at 6," Lynch said. "But I definitely believe in the next five years we'll need to add an officer or two."

In Kirkland, a village of 1,750 people, police chief Stan Smith said teaming with the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office and state police is vital. Although Kirkland's three officers can handle most calls, it is almost impossible to maintain 24-hour operations. Any crime requiring an investigation takes at least a third of the department's manpower.

In those situations, outside help is crucial, Smith said.

"It would be nice to have somebody just working investigations, but obviously for a small town that's very difficult," Smith said. "I would say [the staffing] is reasonable here."

One of the best situations is in Sycamore, where Police Chief Don Thomas said there is about one officer for every 850 people and that is just counting those on patrol duty. He said the 17 patrol officers, four sergeants and five investigators are able to handle the demand of the city's roughly 18,000 residents – about 19,000 calls for service per year.

Thomas said when he looks to his neighbors in DeKalb, Lowery's wish for more officers is more than reasonable.

"They certainly have a higher volume of calls and the severity of those calls is different from Sycamore," Thomas said. "It appears to me the chief of police's request is completely justified."

By the numbers

Town Officers Population

DeKalb 61 43,862

Genoa 6 full-time, 5,100

8 part-time

Kirkland 3 1,750

Sycamore 27 18,000

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