Special Report: 'Putting Our Safety in Jeopardy'

By: Tina Stein
By: Tina Stein

ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Contract negotiations are underway between the city of Rockford and the Rockford Police Union. It could get quite heated as city budget cuts will most likely lead to the termination of officer jobs.

Many on the department argue they're short staffed as it is and it's causing problems when it comes to making an arrest. So I spent a Friday night with them recently to see what they're dealing with.

Patrol Officer Mark Castronovo works through the wee hours of the night responding to calls that can be quite unpredictable.

He said, "Anywhere from a public nuisance to a domestic to a suspicious vehicle."

The weekend we rode with him officers were dispatched to about 500 different places and made 30 arrests.

Castronovo said, This is our nightshift squad roll with officers Peterson and Amadaris.

With the exception of a five-hour shift overlap there’s just one squad roll or "transport van" that brings those just arrested from all over the city to the Winnebago County Justice Center. Until this year, there used to be two transport vans at any given time.

The van helps free up arresting officers, but with pre-booking paperwork and required medical checks some say the plan frequently doesn't work.

Officers working the transport van could be tied up for hours. This takes patrol officers off the streets which could cause some serious consequences.

Police Union President Terry Peterson said, "They may not be as aggressive or assertive about stopping cars, they may not go out and do warrant checks. They may find other alternatives to arrest at call scenes because they know the transport isn't available to them"

Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson said, "That certainly is not the case. Our officers are doing a tremendous job and if they see that someone needs to be arrested, they're going to make the arrest and then they'll deal with whether they have the transportation van or not"

It's a mind-set, Police Union President Terry Peterson says, that could dictate whether someone goes to jail. If the department, which Peterson says is already down 18 officers, shrinks even more our safety could be at risk.

He said, "There’s huge philosophical differences in the way we do things. These guys are in the front lines in the trenches and we're the ones that are at risk by not having the resources we need."

Cuts to the 2012 city budget could mean anywhere from 18-to-49 officers losing their jobs.

Epperson said, "I don’t want to layoff any officers, but we're at a financial intersection now."

Epperson says the court system needs to be more vigilant in preventing repeat offences by keeping bonds high and better tabs on parolees.

He said, "We're never going to have enough officers to take care of that issue because that issue in itself has got to get better."

The arrests we caught on tape were all for suspended or revoked licenses. Other crimes reported that weekend include arson, drug possession, gun possession, and armed robbery: a type of crime Peterson says is becoming more prevalent in Rockford that requires the attention of a fully-staffed Rockford P.D.

Right now 268 people work there and that's down from 306 in 2009.



Preview:
ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Staffing levels in the Rockford Police Department are expected to drop by at least 18 officers and as many as 49 under the 2012 budget.

Police Union President Terry Peterson argues they're short-staffed as it is, especially since there's only one prisoner transport van working overnight. This means arresting officers must frequently bring the newly arrested to jail, which could take them off the streets for hours.

Peterson says this leads to some officers second guessing whether making that arrest is worth it.

He said, "To look out after each other, they take on the mindset that look, I’m not going to get too wrapped up in something that's going to tie me up in the jail because I may be needed out here"

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