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.

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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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Dave Location: Rockford on Oct 13, 2011 at 06:09 AM
    Let the politicians and city officials begin with the fear mongering tactics. I do not fell at all bad when I look at my tax bill and the amount of money that goes to provide financial security for city officials. They operate with an attitude that they can just come strip more money from home owners. Get rid of the waste. Get rid of the useless pewople in city governement. Start firing people when there is the slightest financial malfeasence involved. They all turn a blind eye to one another while they waste money.
  • by Douglas Location: northern IL on Oct 12, 2011 at 04:41 AM
    Why is it that when we have budget cuts lets cut jobs of Firemen and Police. How about the mayor and the city council not get paid this year. Every night we here about this shooting, this robbery, this assault. So it makes sense to lay off police good thinking.
  • by notsureifimright on Oct 11, 2011 at 02:18 PM
    Ohio has taken driver's liscence from career criminals. Putting them in neighborhoods with no public transportation in that area of the city causing them to move. Everyone knows we don't have a conceal to carry and a big welfare state. There has got to be some middle ground. There are second chance employment in Rockford but some types of criminal charges that will suspend financial aid for a period of time. Can't we come up with some law that says repeat offenders cannot come back to the city? There should be a limit on public aid and housing. Maybe four years to allow for education and savings then off the system? Stop this generational welfare. I know people are trying and not everyone receiving assistance is not making a career of it. Mandatory credit classes that teach people how important paying bills are. Maybe limit the amount of times you can receive energy assistance except for elderly and disabled people because we know the income doesn't change. There has got to be a way to motivate people to want a better life. Some people may never be rich but at least they can learn that life can be better.
  • by taxpayer on Oct 11, 2011 at 01:13 PM
    When the city has no money you get what can afford .Just goes to prove not everybody can live off the system,someone has to work and pay taxes.Taxpayers are not working to feed/school other peoples kids they are doing it for their kids this is what real parents do.Many people over the years have moved thousands of miles to find work of some kind..
  • by Anonymous on Oct 11, 2011 at 08:55 AM
    I am still convinced that the mayor and police chief are getting paid off by the street gangs to lay off officers and make the insane decisions they do, just like Daly in Chicago did.
  • by Brian W on Oct 11, 2011 at 08:43 AM
    i say we (all the law abiding citizens) start a movement to PRESSURE our elected officials for concealed carry, then for fiscal responsibilty. I just hope that voters dont re-elect these clowns we have in city hall right now
  • by JOe on Oct 11, 2011 at 08:11 AM
    Whining and complaining isn't going to solve anything. The fact of the matter is that we haven't had enough police officers on the street for some time now and that is why the crime rate has skyrocketed. The complete and total blame for the high crime rate falls on the do nothing mayor who wants to make Rockford beautiful for the criminals, a do less than do nothing city council that goes through the motions of running the city and an ineffective, arrogant, overbearing know-it-all police chief who has all the answers until a problem comes up. Wake up Rockford, WE GET WHAT WE TOLERATE!
  • by Man on Oct 11, 2011 at 05:38 AM
    It seems to me that this city makes wrong choices.crime keeps going up and they decide to reduce street lights and reduce police force.it doesnt seem to get any better
  • by Molly Location: Rockford on Oct 10, 2011 at 10:44 PM
    How can we possibly think of reducing our police presence in this city? Are we aiming for #1 on the Forbes list?
  • by Terry on Oct 10, 2011 at 06:40 PM
    I once saw a movie starring Liza Minelli, where she & others lived in a crime-ridden city where multiple random shooting occurred daily. By the end of the movie, they had picked up rifles and were shooting people for sport themselves. We can put all the officers on the streets we want and it will not stop or curb violence or crime in this town because that is not the cause of it. There are too many people hurting socially and economically in Rockford, and until their lives & prospects are improved, crime will continue unabated.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Oct 10, 2011 at 08:46 PM in reply to Terry
      you know what dude, the majority of the crime in this city is by career criminals and not by some average joe who just lost his job. That is the problem with everybody, they want to make excuses for the criminals . Yes, some average joe might be part of the crime rate, but the majority, i would guess, 95% is by career criminals.
      • reply
        by Man on Oct 11, 2011 at 05:39 AM in reply to
        You are so right!
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