Elgin spent $82K in police OT for 24/7 downtown patrol. Was it worth it?
A five-week trial of constant police presence in downtown Elgin, done in response to complaints related to homeless people, got positive feedback but also cost about $82,300 in overtime.
The city council got a report Wednesday from Police Chief Ana Lalley about the trial from Aug. 5 to Sept. 11, when two patrol officers were assigned 24/7 to downtown with few exceptions due to short-staffing. Police patrols in the rest of the city remained unchanged.
"Business owners reported they were very happy because things seemed to be much calmer," Lalley told the council.
Jennifer Fukala, executive director of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, agreed Thursday.
"There seemed to be a lot of people that were expressing relief and were seeing improvement with some of the common issues we encounter here," she said.
During the five-week trial, there were 1,176 calls for service -- including those initiated by officers -- and 413 citations issued: 35% to repeat offenders, 45% to people who didn't have an address and 30% to Elgin residents, according to police data.
The majority of citations during the trial period, or 64%, were for possession of open alcohol, followed by 6% for public intoxication. Offenses related to marijuana, disorderly conduct, possession of drug paraphernalia, park violations, public urination/defecation, public consumption of alcohol, littering and sitting/lying on the sidewalk each made up 5% or less of the calls.
So far this year there have been more disorderly conduct calls downtown -- 52 through Sept. 30 compared to 34 last year -- but not for other complaints, data shows.
Lalley cautioned that more police presence can prompt "displacement," meaning people go elsewhere and engage in the same behaviors. That has happened in some areas on the fringes of downtown, she said.
The options are keeping the status quo in terms of police resources, shifting officers downtown or hiring more officers. Elgin has seen a 16% decrease in serious crimes -- called "Part I" crimes in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting -- through September compared to last year, Lalley said, and it's unclear how permanently shifting resources downtown would affect crime rates, she said.
"We have to decide collectively as a group in how we wish to move forward," she said.
Councilman Terry Gavin pointed out the presence of homeless people is seasonal. He called for "a balanced approach," saying the city can't spend $82,000 in monthly overtime costs for one initiative.
"I agree it's a challenge to maintain that level of presence in the downtown," Councilwoman Tish Powell said.
Councilman Corey Dixon asked if there are grants to address issues related to the homeless, and Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger asked about having a private security company monitor downtown. Lalley said she'd look into both ideas.
Meanwhile, a new ordinance giving people 24 hours' notice before their property is impounded has resulted in fewer belongings in public places, particularly in downtown parking garages, Public Works Superintendent Greg Hulke said at the meeting.
However, a trial of portable toilets in downtown garages from the end of May to Labor Day did not help, Hulke said. There were still 35 instances of public defecation/urination, some next to the portable toilets.