HOMER — About 30 residents who follow a Facebook page called "Homer Watch " turned out for a special meeting of the village board's police committee, to voice their concerns about the Homer Police Department, the hours local officers are available, and whether the department's overall price is worth the services it provides.
Homer resident Craig Wakefield, whose home was burglarized on Dec. 2, said the hours local officers are on duty would seem to prioritize traffic enforcement over criminal investigations. He said the local police force does not bear its share of the burden in local criminal investigations, but relies instead on Champaign County sheriff's deputies to respond.
Rodney Nash said, "Are traffic tickets more important than crime and the safety of our kids?"
Susan Forsyth said in her experience, local police are slow to respond to calls, if they respond at all.
Said Forsyth, "Why should I pay property taxes that go to our cop, and pay more taxes to the county for the same service? We're paying into it twice."
Shawn White objected to cutting back the local department, saying, "We need more police, day and night."
Cindy Fuller spoke out in defense of the local department, which works limited hours.
The police department, under the direction of Chief John Rouse, provides eight hours of local patrol daily, seven days a week, at irregular hours as scheduled by Rouse; outside these hours, the sheriff's office dispatches emergency response to the village, and forwards non-emergency calls to the Homer department.
The purpose of the special meeting was to hear Wakefield in closed session on a specific complaint against the department for its handling of evidence in the Dec. 2 burglary investigation. His complaint resulted in a decision to resubmit evidence for DNA testing. Sunglasses and a soda can, presumably left behind by the burglar, had already been tested for fingerprints.
The police committee was echoed by Mayor David Lucas, who said he has no doubts as to Rouse's competency: "If you can't trust the police chief and the police department, that's a problem. But I do trust him. My position has always been that John (Rouse) runs the police department. And that's been my advice to the Police Committee members as well, not to micro-manage him."
The total annual cost of the police force is about $63,000, with a portion of the cost covered by the department itself with fines. Lucas said budget constraints would not support adding more hours of local police service.