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posted: 6/1/2012 5:00 AM

Police costs worthy of fresh look, too

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Whatever else you might say about the recent recession and prolonged recovery, it certainly has taught us in the suburbs to see many things in a new light.

Sacred cows and things "always done that way" have gotten a shake-up. Sometimes the results are good, sometimes not, but there's no denying the benefit of giving a fresh look.

Consider suburban police forces, for instance. Public safety long has been a key part of the suburban zeitgeist, right up there with good public schools and plentiful parking.

It's expensive, of course. Costs per resident for full-time police officers range from $75 in Gilberts to $1,574 in Rosemont, with 66 other suburbs falling somewhere in between, as Daily Herald Staff Writer Jake Griffin wrote in Wednesday's Daily Herald.

It's difficult to compare numbers -- there are no set guidelines for police staffing, and towns like Rosemont that spend the most on policing sometimes charge residents the least, thanks to entertainment, hotel and business tax revenue.

But it is enlightening to look at the creative approaches some suburbs have used to cut police costs -- ideas that might be ripe for other towns to consider.

Cook County and Winfield, for instance, are just the latest to consider whether having both county and municipal police forces is too much duplication at too high a cost to the public. Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle is pushing for suburbs to annex the county's scattered unincorporated neighborhoods so she can eliminate sheriff's patrols and save the county -- and taxpayers -- money. Winfield, conversely, is in the midst of a contentious debate over dismantling its police department and turning police protection over to the DuPage County sheriff, possibly saving the village $1 million a year.

Some towns are looking into combining forces, so to speak. West Dundee and Sleepy Hollow recently considered sharing police services, with West Dundee proposing operating a police department and much-smaller Sleepy Hollow contracting for services. Ultimately, the desire for autonomy won out in Sleepy Hollow, reflecting a common sticking point. But leaders of other towns think differently and contract police patrols are a rising phenomenon.

Other police departments contract for dispatching services to save money. Last year, Lakemoor hired Wauconda to handle dispatching for its residents. Wauconda also dispatches for Tower Lakes.

Warrenville Police Chief Raymond Turano says he relies on overtime and part-time police to pick up the slack for two unfilled full-time positions.

Public safety is of top importance, of course. After all, "there's no Mayberry anymore," Oakbrook Terrace Trustee Frank Vlach pointed out.

But does that imperative preclude doing some things differently? Certainly not.

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