Village explores future of law enforcement

SAVOY – As Champaign County's fastest-growing community continues to expand, so have the village's needs for law enforcement.

In an effort to meet increasing needs, the Savoy Village Board is considering asking the sheriff's office to increase its presence there, contracting with neighboring Tolono to share police protection, or creating its own police department.

According to the 2000 Census, Savoy had a population of 4,476. A special census in 2004 showed that Savoy had passed Mahomet to become the county's fourth most populous community, with 5,606 people.

Savoy Village Manager Dick Helton said calls for emergency services have grown along with the population. According to figures provided by the county to Savoy, police were dispatched to Savoy 2,000 times in 2003, 3,117 times in 2004 and 1,169 times through the first four months of 2005.

Since the village doesn't have its own police department, the Champaign County sheriff's office is responsible for law enforcement in the community.

In addition to its regular patrols, the sheriff's office has received $75,000 a year from the village since 2002 to have a deputy specifically assigned to patrol Savoy 49 hours a week.

With police activity on the rise, Helton said the village board is considering three options to increase the law enforcement presence in Savoy.

Helton said he expects the village board to make a decision within two months.

Expanding sheriff patrols

Sheriff Dan Walsh has proposed adding a deputy dedicated to patrolling Savoy. Under the proposal, Savoy would receive a minimum of 15 hours a day of dedicated coverage by sheriff's deputies.

The county's contract with Savoy expired a year ago, but Helton said the sheriff is providing services for now under the terms of the old contract.

"The sheriff said that based on the upward number of police calls we are getting, it warrants having a second deputy here," Helton said.

Walsh declined to be interviewed for this story.

Under the proposal, Savoy's subsidy for the sheriff's office would increase from $75,000 a year to about $200,000 a year. The increased cost would pay for salaries, training, a new patrol car and equipment.

But Helton said the village only budgeted $100,000 this year for police services.

Savoy Village Board member Bill Smith said he supports retaining the services of the sheriff's office.

"As far as I'm concerned, the sheriff's department has done an excellent job in Savoy," Smith said. "The department has responded to the needs of our citizens, so I don't want to mess with a system that is working well for us."

Smith said he wouldn't mind paying the sheriff's office additional money to retain dedicated patrols there.

"If it is necessary for us to help share the law enforcement costs, we should be willing to do that," Smith said.

Partnering with Tolono police

Helton said Savoy staff have also begun talks with the village of Tolono over the possibility of sharing police resources with the Tolono Police Department.

"Maybe we can help them out," said Tolono Mayor Greg Cler. "We're still in the talking stage with Savoy. I don't know if we can do them any good or not."

Under the proposal, Savoy would enter into an agreement to have Tolono police patrol both communities and to share the costs of law enforcement.

"Tolono is interested in trying to work out something that would be beneficial for both of us," Helton said. "We have been talking about staffing and the number of hours of police coverage here."

Creating a new department

Another option is for the village to create its own police department.

Savoy is the largest community in Champaign County without its own police department.

"As Curtis Road develops and we continue to grow, we are moving closer to a time when this village is going to have its own police department," Helton said.

He estimated the cost of starting up a new department between $250,000 a year to $1 million a year, depending upon how much law enforcement coverage the village board wants in Savoy.

"If you want police service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you have to have enough officers to work all those hours. You have to pay those guys well enough to keep them here, and you have to pay to train them," Helton said.

One cost the village doesn't have to worry about is a building.

When the village moved its offices to 611 N. Dunlap Ave. last year, Helton said, space was set aside that could easily be converted into a police station.

"We won't have to build a new building, and there would be savings there," Helton said.

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