Incoming Hebron village president intent on trimming police department budget, reallocating funding

New Village President Robert Shelton ran on reducing law enforcement spending and won April election over incumbent

Juanita Gumble, a part-time police officer who works overnight shifts for Hebron Police Department, poses for a portrait outside the department Tuesday, May 4, 2021.

Robert Shelton, who won election as Hebron’s next village president last month, wants residents to know he was serious about his campaign promise to reduce the local police department budget.

In a Tuesday interview, he affirmed his plans to reallocate funding from Hebron Police Department, which was opposed by the incumbent village president candidate, Kimmy Martinez, who lost her reelection bid.

Hebron’s police force ran on a budget of more than $430,000 for fiscal 2020-21, and Shelton wants at least some of that to be put toward other village needs.

In particular, he said Hebron could be more aggressive with its road maintenance and repair programs and start investing in beautifying the village’s downtown area to make it more attractive to potential customers of its shops and restaurants.

“I cannot give you a specific dollar figure at this moment, until I really delve in. But yes, there are areas that are going to be trimmed. The police budget is going to be trimmed,” Shelton said.

He added: “I support the police, absolutely without a doubt. But by the same token, our village budget is such that we are having a hard time funding other areas. We need to see where unnecessary spending is. And honestly, from my standpoint, the budget is a little large for the size town we have for what’s really being done on [police] call volumes.”

Hebron village president candidate Robert W. Shelton.

One Hebron police officer said she understood there may be room for change to the Hebron department, but urged Shelton to use caution while considering cuts that would leave the village relying on McHenry County Sheriff’s Office to provide law enforcement at some hours.

Response times to situations that require speedy intervention, such as domestic violence or impaired drivers, could suffer and put people in the village at risk without a Hebron officer on duty around the clock, said Juanita Gumble, who works part-time for Hebron in addition to her full-time job as a Lakewood officer.

“Hebron is kind of in its own little area. If I do a traffic stop and I get attacked, it’s going to take seven minutes for me to even have backup at night. Because I’m the only night officer. When I work, I’m alone. This is like my best friend because I’m alone,” Gumble said, pointing to her body armor. “For me to get backup, and I’ve not had county back me up, it’s going to be anywhere from four to seven minutes. I could be dead by then. If someone shoots me, I’m done by the time they get here.”

Employees of multiple businesses in and around Hebron also said they felt the police department has grown too large.

“I’m not familiar with the crime statistics from Hebron. I do know it seems a lot of police presence has been added. I think Hebron is in need of some updating and has been for a while,” said Dan Hart, who operates the Hart’s Saloon bar and restaurant on the village’s Main Street.

Hebron Police Chief Rich Donlea did not respond to interview requests for this story.

Reached by phone, Village Trustee Sandy Drevalas declined to share her thoughts on Shelton’s effort to reallocate resources from local law enforcement, but said she is unfamiliar with his exact vision.

“We don’t know what’s happening,” Drevalas said.

As village president, Shelton would need the Village Board to approve any changes to the village budget or to reallocate dollars.

Village Trustee Mark Shepherd at last week’s board meeting, which was led by Martinez as Shelton has yet to be sworn into office, tried to table the passage of the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which included an additional $116,000 in police department spending compared to last year.

It was ultimately passed in a split vote, Shepherd said, a move he said ignored the voters who turned out last month.

“People spoke loud and clear during the election. They weren’t happy with the way things are going,” Shepherd said, adding he wanted Shelton to have a hand in passing the budget.

Shepherd hopes the budget can be adjusted once Shelton takes office this month.

“We have sidewalks that are in bad shape here,” Shepherd said. “It’s sad [Martinez] didn’t work better with all the trustees.”

Martinez said Shepherd had opportunities to shape the budget earlier in the process than last week, and also said residents in public comment sessions have asked for more accountability from the police department as well as more patrols, but also wanted the budget slashed.

“Do we see the conundrum here? They want more coverage, more accountability and they want to pay out less,” Martinez said. “Mark Shepherd believes he can have his cake and eat it, too. ... Our budgets, for the past four years, have been well-balanced and thoroughly thought through.”

Hebron Police Department became a full-time force during Martinez’s term in 2017, when it started providing an on-duty officer 24 hours a day. The village had previously leaned on the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement coverage when municipal officers were off duty. That arrangement did not cost the village money, because sheriff’s deputies would also be patrolling other areas of the county during those shifts and were not dedicated to Hebron, which could lead to slower response times, Martinez said.

Hebron employed six full-time sworn officers and four part-time officers, Martinez said in March.

During the village president campaign, two other candidates, Josh Stevens and Steve Vole, also ran to challenge Martinez and supported cutting Hebron’s police budget. They dropped out of the race just ahead of the election and asked their supporters to throw their weight behind Shelton.

Vole favored not only cutting the police department budget but eliminating the municipal force entirely and taking the village back to working with the sheriff’s office for law enforcement services.

Hart was not on board with that.

“I’m definitely not in favor of getting rid of the police force,” Hart said, adding he could go along with Shelton’s plan to reduce its size while keeping it intact. “It’s important in city government that we’re always looking at trimming away any fat we can while maintaining the services we need.”

Shelton also said he wants to resume village festivals and gatherings with the goal of drawing more people to Hebron, and could put village funding into such efforts if any is freed from other spending.