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Deputy Dustin Heath says his favorite part of serving Elgin is interacting with business owners and other community members. When they are comfortable with him, he says it makes solving crimes easier. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
Contracts with Union County Sheriff’s Office offer financial savings, constant coverage
Elgin officials and community members had some uneasiness when the city moved to contract with the Union County Sheriff’s Office in 2012 after its own police department was disbanded.
In the time that has followed, though, officials say the contract between the two entities is working well. Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen thinks it’s working so well that he’s referring to the situation in Elgin as “the Elgin model.”
“The Elgin model is running pretty well with set deputies,” Rasmussen said. “They’re connecting with the community a lot more.”
The UCSO contract with Elgin guarantees 420 hours a month, which is equivalent to three deputies. Since the sheriff’s office took over law enforcement in Elgin, the office has moved to have set deputies in the area.
Elgin City Councilor Allan Duffy said that community interaction helped citizens reach a turning point in accepting the presence of the Union County Sheriff’s Office.
“(The deputies) have a great understanding of the community. They’ve come out and met the people,” Duffy said. “They have a keen sense for what’s going on in the community.”
Deputies Dustin Heath and John Sutton have been assigned to Elgin, while a third deputy for the area is in the works. Heath, who has worked in Elgin for the past year, says community members have warmed up. In fact, Heath said, interacting with the community is his favorite part of the job.
“Once they get to know you, you become more approachable,” he said. “They like talking to you once they get to know you.”
While officials are glad Elgin citizens are more comfortable with the deputies, they are happy with the communication and the relationship they have with the sheriff’s office.
In addition to a monthly report from UCSO at regular council meetings, Heath and Sutton stay in touch with Duffy and Councilor Dick Miller, members of the city’s public safety committee.
“We’re kept well informed of what’s going on. We know what they’re doing,” Duffy said. “They have bent over backwards to work with us.”
Elgin’s police department disintegrated in the wake of the August 2011 shooting of city resident Richard Shafer by Officer Erik Kilpartrick in a domestic disturbance call. Kilpatrick and Chief Kevin Lynch resigned that October, leaving the city without any officers. In May 2012, the Elgin City Council voted to enter a contract with UCSO rather that continue an effort to re-build the local department.
Duffy said concerns over losing local control have been mitigated by the good relationship.
“There was concern over losing local control, but they have let us participate in such a way that it’s like having our own police department,” Duffy said.
Rasmussen said that constant communication, along with set deputies, is something the sheriff’s office is trying to implement in Union, where the UCSO is also contracted. They are also trying to use Deputy Cody Bowen, a set deputy in Union, which has not had its own police department since 2007.
Officials say the deal they get in Elgin is more than service-related.
“I believe for the service we’re receiving we’re really getting our money’s worth,” Duffy said.
The 2013-14 contract with Elgin costs $269,023 for the guaranteed 420 hours a month. That’s about a 10 percent savings from the cost of Elgin’s police department, according to Pro-tem City Administrator Laird Allen.
Duffy said the Elgin Police Department had a chief and two officers, but the chief generally spent half his time doing administrative work.
“We get the administration of the sheriff’s office” now, he said, noting that the UCSO also handles insurance and liability issues.
Duffy noted that the deputies often go over their set number of hours.
“They have not let any calls go unanswered. They’re going to respond,” he said.
Union is contracted for 132 hours a month — about the equivalent of three-fourths of a deputy — at a cost of $76,518 for 2013-14.
In comparison, Union’s police department cost $180,000 in 2006 with four full-time officers.
When contacted for this story, Union city officials refused to comment on the sheriff’s office service, since their contract is set to expire at the end of the fiscal year. They soon will begin negotiations with the UCSO.
Though Union’s hours with the sheriff’s office are fewer than they had with their own department, Rasmussen says they are getting more than the cities without contracts and even more hours than the contracts require.
“Both (Elgin and Union) routinely get significantly more patrol hours under their contracts when all monthly calls and hours are added up at month’s end,” Rasmussen said.
The first contract with the Union County Sheriff’s Office dates back to the mid-1990s under then-Sheriff Steve Oliver.
Longtime Island City Mayor Dale De Long said it began when the city got deputy hours through a federal program. The first year was paid for with grant monies.
“Each year, it got to be less until it phased out. Then it went to where we wholly funded it ourselves,” De Long said.
Like Elgin and Union, the deputies usually put in more time than is required by contract in Island City, De Long said. Island City contracts for 80 hours a month, equivalent to about half a deputy.
“We have a really good working relationship with the sheriff’s office,” he said. “We have good contact and communication with them if there’s anything we want them to really look at.”
He also noted that the city’s location gives them a lot of pass-through patrol.
“It has worked very well for us,” he said. “Having your own patrol, your own department, it’s so expensive. It’s just not feasible in the budget to have anything anywhere close to what’s provided in the contract with the sheriff’s office.”