Government

Joliet City Council opts to remain part of auto theft task force

Will, Grundy and Kankakee county officials argued Joliet residents benefit from city’s membership

The shield of the Joliet Police Department on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, at Joliet City Hall in Joliet, Ill.

The Joliet City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to remain part of the Tri-County Auto Theft Task Force after hearing from neighboring agencies about how the city benefits from its membership.

The task force, which investigates car thefts in Will, Grundy and Kankakee counties, is funded through a grant administered by Joliet. Members of the task force told the council’s Public Safety Committee that if Joliet withdrew, it would be detrimental to the task force and hurt residents.

Dwayne Killian, the director of administration for the task force and a former Joliet police officer, said the majority of car thefts the task force handles occur in Joliet. Although two Joliet police officers are assigned to the task force instead of regular duties, officers from other agencies also handle cases in Joliet, so the city benefits from extra law enforcement, Killian said.

The task force includes a Romeoville officer, a Will County deputy, a Kankakee officer, two Kankakee County deputies, a Grundy County deputy and a Manteno officer, all of whom can work cases in Joliet.

The Joliet Police Department on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, in Joliet, Ill.

Killian said membership in the task force was “financially beneficial” to Joliet. He also said the city made a four-year commitment to the task force. Joliet Police Chief Dawn Malec signed an agreement last month to stay in the task force for the next year, which she said she has to do every year.

“I just don’t think it looks very professional for us to back out after we gave our word,” Killian said.

In addition, the task force fully reimburses the city for the total salaries of the two Joliet officers for about $240,000. The officers on the task force have specific training in solving auto theft cases which the average Joliet patrol officer might not have, Killian said.

Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow told the committee it was a “no-brainer” for Joliet to stay in the task force.

“You’d basically be shooting yourself in the foot for a million bucks if you walk away from this,” Glasgow said, referring to the money in salary costs the task force grant pays for. “This isn’t a very difficult decision.”

Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe echoed Glasgow’s argument and said Joliet’s withdrawal from the agreement would negatively affect residents. He said if auto thefts in Joliet increase, then car insurance rates also would go up.

James Capparelli addresses the City Council ahead of his appointment as the new city manager on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, at Joiliet City Hall in Joliet, Ill.

The topic of whether to remain in the task force came up in June when Joliet City Manager James Capparelli notified the task force that Joliet would withdraw from participating in it in August, although the decision needed approval from the City Council.

Capparelli argued for the city’s withdrawal from the task force, citing staffing needs for the police department.

On Tuesday, he reiterated his concerns about staffing and said that although the task force grant reimburses the city for their two officers’ salaries, it doesn’t cover their pensions or other benefits. He also said he believed the two Joliet officers on the task force had never taken an alleged offender into custody, an assertion Killian took issue with.

“I don’t believe they’ve gone to trial on any cases,” Capparelli said. “So just because we’re spending money, and we get money, doesn’t mean that’s necessarily the best use of the taxpayers’ money.”

He also said the city is working to equip every Joliet police car with a license plate reader, which helps to identify stolen vehicles.

Members of the Public Safety Committee asked Malec for her thoughts on the matter and she said it was her wish to maintain the city’s commitment to the task force.

“Having a task force of eight to 10 extra people complimenting my officers is beneficial,” Malec said. “It is helpful.”

Joliet Chief of Police Dawn Malec on Wednesday, March 10, 2021, at Joliet City Hall in Joliet, Ill.

Councilmen Larry Hug said there was merit to the concerns of Joliet pulling out of the task force. Plus, he said, pulling out could affect Joliet’s credibility at a crucial time when the city is in talks with neighbors to form a regional water commission.

“If our word as a city is not good on an agreement, and they can’t count on us in this case, why would other communities look at us and go, ‘Yeah let’s shake hands with Joliet?’” Hug said.

The committee voted to recommend to the full City Council that Joliet remain part of the task force.

Killian made the same arguments to the council right after the committee meeting. The council voted, 8-0, to stay in the task force.

Councilwoman Jan Quilman, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, agreed with Hug about the importance of maintaining the city’s commitment to the task force.

“We have to keep our word, because who’s going to come to us if we don’t keep our word?” she said.