LYONS – On midnight Friday, the axe fell for seven members of the Lyons Police Department.
The village of Lyons cited budgetary concerns for the layoffs, which were in response to the failure of the police officer's union and the village to find middle ground in the negotiation of a new contract with officers. Negotiations between the village and the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police stalled in December.
According to a news release from the village, the Lyons Police Department was "overstaffed" with 23 officers on the payroll. The village cited national FBI staffing recommendations of 1.5 police officers per 1,000 residents, which would put Lyons' minimum staffing guildlines at 15 officers.
Village officials declined to be interviewed, but replied in a statement that the village believed a staff of 16 officers would be able to provide an effective police service for the community. In the release, Village President Chris Getty promised residents that the level of protection in the village would not change as the result of the loss.
To cover the staff reduction, the department's three commanders and two detectives will assume street patrol duties when they were not involved in active investigations, according to village spokesman Ray Hanania.
Trustee Krueger: Cuts make residents less safe
Lyons Trustee Patti Krueger said she believes the village is making a mistake with the cuts.
"I think it's absolutely ridiculous," Krueger said.
According to Krueger, not only will the cuts make residents less safe, it also leaves the police officers in a dangerous situation.
"You can't have one officer respond to a domestic situation," Krueger said. "What happens when there's a robbery call across town?"
Krueger expressed concern about what would happen when an officer calls out sick, or is called into court. She said she was worried about the degree to which Lyons will need to rely on police from neighboring towns to cover service calls when officers are otherwise busy.
"Who is going to do investigations when they're out on patrol? Who will be on patrol when they're investigating?" Krueger asked.
According to Krueger, the Village Board has been kept in the dark throughout the process and said the village should not have started making cuts with the police department. According to Krueger, members of the elected Village Board were recently given raises and were offered health insurance, even though they are part-time employees. Krueger asked why a village of Lyons' size needed spokesman Ray Hanania's services at $24,000 a year, or needed lobbyists for the village at $40,000 a year.
But the village claims it will save much more by cutting the police department than cutting either of those expenses. According to Hanania, the village stands to save about $650,000 by reducing the police staff. Hanania said the police department isn't the only village department doing more with less. The village recently cut one full time firefighter position and has made cuts across all departments in the last three years.
Number of officers employed by nearby towns varies
Lyons' 16 officers for a town of nearly 11,000 residents is the same number of police officers employed at the village of Stickney, a town of nearly 7,000 residents. Nearby Riverside, with a population about 2,000 less residents than Lyons currently employs 18 officers. Countryside, a town with almost 6,000 residents currently employs 24 officers. La Grange Park, with a population of over 13,000 residents, currently employs 20 officers.
Union: village of Lyons refused to provide documentation of financial hardship
According to Illinois Fraternal Order of Police General Council Tamara Cummings, union officials have been surprised by the village's unwillingness to negotiate.
Cumming said the village's last offer for the new contract posed significant cuts in salary and health benefits.
According to Cummings, when municipalities cite financial hardship as a reason for renegotiating a contact, they often provide supporting documentation to show the hardship, something the village refused to show.
The union has filed lawsuits against the village for failing to follow the contact that was in place that said when cuts for financial hardship needed to be made, civilian positions would be the first to go. According to Cummings, the union has also filed complaints against the village with the local labor board citing unfair labor practices when the village failed to disclose documentation of the claimed hardships and when the village made changes to officer's health insurance benefits.
"The Village has done everything it can to work with the Union but they don’t want to be responsive," Hanania wrote in a reply.
According to Hanania, the village offered offers a contract that included no raises for two years, but two percent raises the following two years as part of a four-year contact. Hanania did not provide information about any changes to officer's benefits.
Lyons residents concerned about cuts, hope village will provide more information
Residents in Lyons are concerned about the cuts to the police department, but some say they are taking a wait-and-see approach.
Lyons resident Kristin Slagado said she believes the cuts will cause slower response times for crime reports and will lead to less cases being solved.
"I feel like they wont be able to respond as fast," Salgado said Friday. "Everyone knows we've [made cuts] and I feel like we're more of a target now."
Salgado said she felt the village should have found money elsewhere, or made cuts to other departments.
Ylenia Aceveto, who has been a Lyons resident for a year, said she trusts the village to make the best decision regarding where to make cuts, but is concerned about cuts to police.
"I trust that they are making the right decision," Aceveto said. " But I think that keeping [the neighborhood] safe is important."
Aceveto said she hoped the village would give residents more information about the cuts and the village's crime statistics in future editions of the village newsletter.
"It's important for residents to know," Aceveto said. "If it's less safe, then we should hire more [officers back]."