Three city police detectives reportedly will no longer focus primarily on drug crimes as the result of the new city budget that will see two officer positions left unfilled.
The Police Department after June will no longer staff its Meth Task Force, and will formally withdraw the detective it assigned to an area-wide drug investigations agency.
Those and other changes prompted criticism this week from the union representing the officers to the City Council.
Two Council members replied Thursday that they don’t recall City Manager Tony Carson discussing the changes during budget planning and didn’t know they were coming.
“Things like this should be brought out” in budget discussions, said Lloyd Orrick. “When the city manager makes (personnel) cuts they should be gone over in detail.”
Like Orrick, Mark Luft said he learned of the department’s officer assignment and policy changes only through comments at the Monday Council meeting by Eric Poertner, chief labor representative for the Pekin Police Benevolent Labor Committee.
Neither Carson nor Police Chief John Dossey attended the meeting. They and Mayor John McCabe were unavailable for comment Thursday.
Poertner said Thursday that police union officials told him Carson “unilaterally” decided to cease the practice of detectives taking their department-issued squad cars home.
That’s a “long-standing practice” which enables detectives called to investigate a crime scene to drive directly to it, rather than retrieving their squads and equipment at police headquarters, he said.
Luft said he wants to know how much the city will save with that change, which he said could affect police efficiency and overall public safety.
Poertner said the department’s two deputy chiefs and lieutenant of investigations “offered to give up their take-home vehicles” so detectives could keep theirs.
“That was turned down,” he said Thursday. “Why? We didn’t get an answer.”
Luft said he's considering asking the Council to call on Carson to explain that decision, as well as his choice not to fill two vacant patrol officer positions.
Orrick said he also would’ve liked to learn of the changes before the Council passed the city budget on May 1.
“But the bottom line is, Tony Carson runs (city) operations” in Pekin’s city manager form of government, “and that falls under operations.”
Poertner said that to keep the department’s patrol division fully staffed, one detective will be reassigned from its Meth Task Force and another will leave his assignment with the Multi-County Drug Enforcement Group (MEG), which investigates drug crimes in Tazewell and surrounding counties.
A third detective will shift from the Meth Task Force to a “general case load” of investigations, Poertner said.
While that assignment will include drug-related cases, Pekin will lose serious ground in its fight against “the scourge of heroin and methamphetamine,” Poertner told the council.
“The rank and file of the Pekin Police Department cannot bring themselves to believe that this is what the elected officials of this city want,” he said.
Dave Briggs, director of MEG, said the unit will be affected by the loss of its Pekin-assigned officer.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s a huge loss,” he said. “We’ll absorb it,” with hope that Pekin’s and other contributing departments will find budget room in the future to keep MEG fully staffed.
The agency, however, will continue to share information its investigators gather on drug cases involving Pekin, Briggs said.
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