SYCAMORE – A growing number of calls for service and slower response times means the Sycamore Police Department’s five-year plan is focused on increasing personnel, Chief Jim Winters said Monday.
Winters spoke during Sycamore’s Special City Council meeting where he presented the council with the department’s goals for the next five years.
“It is a little bit alarming how it has progressed on the time for reacting to crimes,” Sycamore Mayor Steve Braser said. “The town is definitely getting bigger and spread out more.”
The Sycamore Police Department has a $4.6 million budget, with 34 full-time staff, including the chief, a records clerk and administrative assistant, along with two deputy chiefs, six sergeants, two detectives and 21 patrol officers, according to the fiscal 2023 budget. The city of Sycamore’s budget goes midyear to midyear. The majority of the police department’s budget goes to personnel costs, records show.
Since 2009, the average response time for Sycamore police officers has gone up 1 minute and 37 seconds, Winters said. In 2009, the average time a Sycamore police officer spent on a call for service went up from 39 minutes and two seconds to 51 minutes and 32 seconds. Per year, the total number of calls the department receives has grown by more than 2,000 between 2009 and 2021.
In that 13-year window, the police force has grown by only two officers, Winters said. One of those positions was created in 2015 for a School Resource Officer at Sycamore Middle School while the other position – a Community Resource Sergeant – was just approved this year.
As a part of the department’s five year plan, Winters said he wants to add police officers to the department’s roster so that most shifts are staffed with five officers and a sergeant. Minimum staffing for the Sycamore Police Department is three officers per 12-hour shift, which start or end at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. In 2021, 66.5% of shifts were staffed with just three officers on duty.
Winters said while the department has gotten by with three officers per shift, the ideal is four, and that’s getting harder to staff to calls for services.
“When you have three on a shift and you send two officers to a domestic disturbance or some type, where it warrants two officers, you have one officer left for the entire city,” Winters said.
Third Ward Alderman Jeff Fischer asked Winters what his overall priority for the department is. Winters said his priority is patrol staff.
“Especially because it takes so long right now,” Winters said. “We’re recruiting. We’re facing recruiting challenges at unprecedented levels.”
Winters said he also wants to add a detective position that focuses on technological investigations.
“I would say 75 to 90% of everything they do has a technology component to it,” Winters said. ”Whether it’s downloading cellphones, obtaining camera footage, doing search warrants for social media account data, the technology just really consumes a lot of what they’re doing evidence-wise and some of the follow up.”
Winters said he also wants to hire a part-time administrative assistant to staff the police department’s lobby and help with responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, among other public duties.
In 2021, 382 FOIA requests were submitted to the Sycamore Police Department, up from 340 in 2018, he said, but down from 427 in 2019. As of Oct. 17, the department has received 339 requests this year. Winters said the department is projected to receive 434 requests in 2022.
Winters said he believes increased staffing would allow the department to “catch up” to areas of need in the city,
“Because you can see our response times are getting a little bit slow, and the calls are increasing,” Winters said. “So some of it is a little bit of catch-up, but also it’s making sure we’re staying with the mission we’re doing today and going forward, too.”