Following slashed police budget, Alden-Hebron superintendent ‘gravely concerned about safety’

District 19 Superintendent Tiffany Elswick speaks out on school safety and the need for increased coordination with Hebron police during a village meeting Monday night, Aug. 22, 2022.

A diminished police force in the village of Hebron has raised concerns from Alden-Hebron School District 19′s leadership over its ability to maintain a safe environment for students.

Superintendent Tiffany Elswick spoke Monday evening at the Village Board meeting in an appeal to both increase police preparedness and presence within the school buildings, which she said house roughly 430 students and 90 staff members.

No officers were present for the district’s most recent safety meeting and they have not been able to do a walkthrough of the schools as a unit or review the district’s crisis manuals, Elswick said.

“It’s imperative that the district have a stronger working relationship with the police department,” Elswick said. “If we see a crisis, we are not prepared. As a leader of our district, as a mom, I am gravely concerned about safety.”

At the very least, district officials wanted Hebron officers available for six trainings a year, she said.

The police budget has been slashed over the past year as Village President Robert Shelton, who ran in 2021 on a campaign to cut the police budget and reallocate village funds, has made good on his campaign promise.

The move has earned Shelton some criticism, including from Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, which in a March statement said the cuts pose “a severe safety and liability risk for the village’s citizens.”

“Sooner or later, a tragedy will occur when there just aren’t enough officers on Hebron’s streets to handle an emergency situation,” the union’s executive director, Shawn Roselieb, said in the release, urging the village to restore the department’s funding.

The village currently has four officers, down from a dozen as recently as 2019, Officer Christopher Roberts said.

The police’s diminished numbers decreased the department’s ability to come into the district schools during the day, particularly all four officers at once, Roberts said, who added that ultimately the Village Board would have to determine whether the police could attend an upcoming intruder drill for the district.

Shelton said he’d discussed with Hebron Chief Rich Donlea the need for improved school safety and noted that an empty “dummy” police car is currently parked at the high school parking lot.

Village Trustee Pat Peterson also expressed concerns about the village’s ability to adequately protect the district schools in a crisis.

“God help us if something happens and we don’t have the monetary or staffing means to assist,” Peterson said.