What police staffing costs us in the suburbs
Cost per resident varies widely among towns
Rosemont leaders spend $1,574 on police salaries for every resident those officers serve and protect.
But in Round Lake, officials spend less than $76 per resident on salaries for sworn police personnel.
Among 68 suburban police departments analyzed throughout six counties, the average cost per resident is about $137 to cover full-time police salaries. But towns at the lower end of the scale aren't necessarily having an easier time making ends meet, while some wonder how long departments with higher per-resident costs can maintain the level of service the town has come to expect.
"There's no way for our department to go smaller," said Tony Ragucci, mayor of Oakbrook Terrace, where the per-person cost for police is $669. "We've cut the budget dramatically."
Many variables go into determining a suburban police department's staffing level and cost. And many municipal leaders are taking a closer look at those variables to determine if the once-sacrosanct police department budgets have room to give way for other city services.
"Staffing used to be determined by population or X-amount of officers per geographic area," Warrenville Police Chief Raymond Turano said. "But now there are several different models for how you can go about staffing police departments."
Workload, call data, geography, desired performance level, proactive policing and other factors are determining factors for departmental staffing, according to the "Police Allocation Manual," a nationally recognized police administration textbook.
Turano's department -- like most suburban police forces -- has shrunk in the years since the economy tanked in 2008. But the chief said maximizing the remaining resources while maintaining the level of service to residents is paramount.
"We could hire two more officers, but rather than incur the expense of adding two more employees, we believed it would be more prudent to look at overtime or schedule part-timers in a way that we can pick up the slack," Turano said.
Warrenville spent about $30,000 on part-time police officers last year, he added. Full-time police officers in Warrenville came in at a cost of about $196 per resident, the 10th-highest among the departments analyzed.
As in many municipalities, Warrenville property owners cover the majority of the police costs. But in towns where per-resident police spending is the highest, residents usually aren't footing the bill. That's the case in places like Rosemont and Oakbrook Terrace. Rosemont abates residential property taxes each year, so the cost of police protection falls on the millions of visitors the entertainment destination hosts each year.
Similarly, in Oakbrook Terrace, a home-rule sales tax and hotel occupancy taxes are used to supplement property taxes.
"We're a small Rosemont," Ragucci said. "We watch our overtime."
Ragucci said he's heard no complaints about police spending from the village's 2,134 residents nor the 50,000-plus workers who commute to Oakbrook Terrace for their jobs each day.
But some towns that don't have a massive commercial tax base to rely on for police funding are finding it difficult to maintain public safety services. Winfield village trustees are currently embroiled in controversy surrounding plans to dismantle the village's police department and turn over police protection to the DuPage County sheriff's office. Proponents say the move could save $1 million, which could be used for needed road repairs.
Winfield spent $1.3 million on salaries for 17 officers last year, according to financial records provided by the village. The per-resident cost of those salaries is about $147. The village of just three square miles and 9,080 residents enjoys a low crime rate, with police handling two violent crimes and 59 property crimes in its 2010 report to the FBI.
Barrington Hills has a similarly low crime rate. But size might matter when it comes to police staffing costs. The village spends almost $400 per resident on police salaries for 19 officers, the fourth-highest amount among the suburbs studied. However, police officers in Barrington Hills have 29 square miles to cover with just 4,209 residents.
Unlike fire departments, police departments have no national standard for staffing that affects a property owner's insurance rates. Officials from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, a nonprofit organization that certifies many suburban police departments, said staffing levels are not considered when a police department is accredited, either.
But longtime Oakbrook Terrace village Trustee Frank Vlach believes there's another reason why municipalities spend so much on police services and why residents are willing to pay for it.
"There's no Mayberry anymore, you know that," he said. "We have to lock our doors now, and you don't walk down streets that don't have lights."