If Winfield officials pursue a plan to disband the town's police department to pay for road repairs, organized opposition already is in place to try to stop them.
Hundreds of signs expressing support for the Winfield Police Department have appeared in front yards throughout the village. And residents have launched a petition drive to get an advisory question on the November ballot.
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More than 60 people met this week with DuPage County Board members Dirk Enger and Robert Larsen to share their opinions about the possibility of Winfield contracting the county sheriff's office to provide police protection. Every person who got up to speak said he or she wants the village to keep its police force.
"We will vote against whoever votes to get rid of our police, even on a county level," resident Larry Wetzel said. "We will organize. Just drive around the neighborhoods and see the number of signs. This cannot be allowed to happen."
Residents have been voicing concerns since village trustees last month agreed to pay a consultant $32,000 to evaluate the police department. One of their suspicions has been that the study by REM Management Services is the first step to outsourcing the department's duties.
The issue turned into a firestorm when Trustee Erik Spande revealed that the village board was secretly negotiating for months with representatives from the sheriff's office.
"It's an emotional issue because it's an example of backroom dealing," said Rock Rockett, vice president of Winfield United, a political group that organized the yard sign campaign. He said the group in recent weeks has been able to sell 400 signs at $5 each because there's so much support for Winfield's police.
"Obviously, repairing the roads is important," Rockett said. "But people don't want to give up the police department in order to repair the roads."
Several village trustees insist that they haven't made up their minds about the fate of the police department. They said they are waiting for REM to complete its review.
However, preliminary estimates show that Winfield would save at least $1 million a year if it contracted with the sheriff's office.
Under that scenario, Winfield would spend about $1.1 million a year to have eight deputies assigned to the town. Two deputies would be patrolling Winfield's streets at any given time.
Meanwhile, other estimates show that Winfield needs to raise at least $3.5 million to fix its most deteriorated streets. A village board discussion about how to raise that money has been postponed and likely won't happen until after a decision has been made about the police budget.
Resident Craig Casino said there's no guarantee that using the sheriff's office would save the village money. He said he fears the idea would end up costing Winfield more than the $2.6 million a year it spends to maintain its 19-member department.
"And we're never going to be able to get our police department back," Casino said.
Concerns voiced by other residents included slower response times, declining property values and less community policing.
Susan Gillespie, president of the Winfield Elementary District 34 board, said officials are worried that most of the services the local police provide to the district will disappear if the sheriff's office takes over. That includes doing truancy checks on students, dealing with traffic problems and partnering with the district on bullying issues.
Gillespie said she hopes that Enger and Larsen share what they heard during the meeting with county board members and village trustees.
Enger said he's planning to do that.
"This is a community that feels like it hasn't been listened to," said Enger, who lives in Winfield. "Many of the people I have talked to want to remind the trustees that (the residents) are the employer. They want to be heard."