Police chief, commissioner split on budget issues

Understaffed, over budget, and over worked: a local police chief says he’s concerned his department is stretched too thin to keep you safe.

With just under 9,000 people in town, Harrisburg, Illinois, has nearly one and a half times as much violent crime as the national average.

He’s been on the job for nearly a year, and Harrisburg Police Chief Whipper Johnson says it has become apparent that his 12 man staff is having a hard time keeping up with crime.

"Since I’ve been chief, we’ve only had one drug detail," said Johnson. "We use most of the overtime that we’ve had just to cover basic shifts and court.  With the drug activity we’ve got in Harrisburg, we ought to be having one a week."

Johnson says his department is down three positions, and two more officers are retiring within the year.

"There are guys that have worked 70 or 80 hours per week several weeks in a row," said Johnson. "Some guys haven’t had days off."

With a $1.3 million budget, Harrisburg Public Safety Commissioner Beth Montfort disagrees with the chief’s assessment that the department lacks the necessary resources. However, she says if they need help, they should simply look next door.

"Our police department is housed with our county sheriff," said Montfort. "We have county and state police here and in the long term, for all of southern Illinois to be able to survive, we all have to work together."

"You can’t bring in industry, ou can’t bring in population, you can’t bring in commerce and step backwards on public safety," said Johnson.

"You have some money to work with. You have to do the best you can with it," said Montfort.

Even if the department were to hire new officers today, Johnson says it could take more than six months before they’re ready for the road.

Montfort says she is looking at creative ways to make the department’s budget go further before the April 30 budget deadline.

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