Winfield cops: 'We were kicked in the teeth'
Morale at the Winfield Police Department has suffered since it became known the village is seeking help from the DuPage County Sheriff's Office, union officials say.
Winfield patrol officers recently learned Village President Deborah Birutis met with Sheriff John Zaruba in December to talk about the possibility of the sheriff's office providing some police services to the village.
While Zaruba and Birutis insist the discussions are preliminary and don't include talk of dismantling Winfield's department, police officers "feel like they got kicked in the teeth," according to Joseph Andalina, president of the Metropolitan Alliance of Police.
"They see this as taking away jobs they have performed," he said. "They see this as a possible reduction in the force. And they feel real alienated and isolated over the fact that the mayor didn't even bother to discuss with them anything about where the problems are.
"All of sudden, the problems are so severe that they've got to talk about reducing job responsibilities and bringing in another police agency? That's insulting."
Birutis said she respects the village's police officers and her meeting with Zaruba simply was part of the budget process.
"But at the same time, we would not be doing our jobs if we did not try to save money and increase revenues ... particularly when we have road improvement needs in the town right now," she said.
Winfield officials are taking a close look at the budget, in part, because the village must raise $3.3 million to resurface its most deteriorated streets. The village has only $150,000 available for annual repairs to its roads.
Meanwhile, about $3 million of Winfield's roughly $4 million general fund is spent on the police department.
Still, Andalina said village officials should have spoken to the three sergeants and 13 patrolmen to get cost-saving ideas. Instead, Birutis went "behind the scenes" to start talks with another agency to do work that Winfield police "are doing and have been doing well," Andalina said.
Andalina questioned whether the suggestions that have been revealed would save Winfield money. Those ideas include having the sheriff's office offer SWAT team support, provide forensic technicians for Winfield cases or handle the village's 911 calls and emergency dispatching.
"The savings from those are insignificant unless there's something more that's hidden that we don't know about," Andalina said.
Village officials have declined to release a list of all the services Winfield might seek from the sheriff's office.
The Daily Herald has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the information.
Chief Frank Bellisario has not returned several phone calls to discuss the matter.
Village Manager Curt Barrett has declined to comment.
A chief with Zaruba's office, Dan Bilodeau, declined to comment, saying he had to consult with a member of the DuPage County State's Attorney's office first.
In the meantime, Birutis denied rumors that one of the ideas is to disband the police department and have the sheriff's office take over policing the village.
"Those rumors are exactly what they are," she said. "They are rumors.
"I met with Zaruba to ask about programs that we could share in order to help the village save some money," Birutis said. "There was no, 'I want to disband the whole department.' I never said something like that."
It will be up to village board members to finalize any agreement between Winfield and the sheriff's office. But first, Bellisario is expected to make a presentation to the village's finance committee within the next month.
"I think there are improvements that can be done in the police department," Birutis said. "And I'm hoping that the chief of police will be able to recommend improvements."