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Flossmoor police get green light to hire two new officers

Flossmoor is adding two more officers to its police force.

Faced with evidence that calls to the newly opened Meijer store could strain police response in the rest of the community, village board members Monday unanimously voted to hire the additional officers. 

R.E.M. Management Services, a Lansing-based consulting firm, recently conducted a study of police department staffing and recommended the addition of the two patrol officers.

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Before the new officers are hired, the board must approve a budget amendment that sets aside money for their positions. This is likely to happen at the Dec. 5 meeting.

Mayor Paul Braun said he expects that the cost of hiring the two officers, including salaries and benefits, will come to about $250,000. However, that cost will be covered by new sales and property tax money generated by the Meijer store. Braun said Meijer is projected to bring in between $600,000 and $700,000 in new taxes.

Police Chief Michael Pulec said the department is likely to make job offers next month to its top applicants on the current eligibility list. If they accept the offer, the department will do further background checks. Candidates who have not previously served in law enforcement must attend the police academy for 13 weeks and then undergo another 13 weeks of on-the-job field training in Flossmoor. Under that scenario, the new hires will be on the street as officers early next summer, Pulec said.

Flossmoor currently has 19 sworn officers on its police department – a chief and deputy chief, four sergeants and 13 patrol officers. Pulec said that number has not increased since 2001 despite the department’s taking on a greater number of tasks and community initiatives, such as community policing initiativesand community relations programs. An increase in group homes in Flossmoor has also added to the work load.

The department has been understaffed for years, according to an analysis by R.E.M., which works with municipalities on staffing issues. The department has not operated at full strength since 2008. During most shifts, police staffing levels in Flossmoor – affected by vacations and other leave, injuries and litigation – register at 82 percent of full strength, R.E.M.’s report says.

R.E.M. studied five communities with Meijer stores to determine the effect of similar retail outlets on local policing. All are about the same size as Flossmoor and located in Michigan, which is Meijer’s home base. Not surprisingly, the study shows that an operation as large as Flossmoor’s Meijer store leads to more police calls, usually for retail theft.

“We know your crime is going to go up,” said Brad Bloom, of R.E.M. “We also know you don’t want your officers spending less time in the community.”

During focus groups with community members, R.E.M. found that Flossmoor residents are pleased with the performance of the police department, Bloom said.

“The community is happy with the level of service,” he said. “People don’t want it to change.”

Police have been called to the Meijer store 89 times since it opened in June. According to R.E.M.’s projections, police will be called to the store 185 times annually. Already, the calls to Meijer have taken up an inordinate amount of time for responding officers.

“One occasion was a report of a retail theft that resulted in an apprehension and felony charges,” Pulec said. “It took one officer over eight hours from start to finish to properly gather evidence and charge this individual.”

R.E.M. also examined other factors that point to a need for additional officers. These include upcoming retirements on the department, a growing business community in Flossmoor, increased involvement in south suburban mutual aid groups and changes in nationwide policing procedures. According to the report, law enforcement studies have concluded that communities need to hire 1.67 officers to receive the full service of one officer, with the difference coming from time off in the assignment of shift schedules.

In a related move Monday, the village board approved changes in the role of the police department’s community service officer (CSO).

In the past, the CSO has been responsible for monitoring local code violations. Those duties will be shifted to Flossmoor’s Inspectional Services Department. The village will hire two part-time inspectors so that code enforcement can be carried out seven days a week during peak building season and five days a week the rest of the year.

Under the changes, the CSO, who is not a sworn officer, will exclusively perform police support duties.

In August, Homewood trustees approved a budget amendment enabling the police department to add two patrol officer positions. Police Chief Bill Alcott said the request for new positions is in anticipation of greater demand on the department as a result of more business on Halsted Street, including the new Walmart store and a major expansion at Menard’s.

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