EAST ST. LOUIS – Members of Fraternal Order of Police Union Local 126 took their frustration to the street Monday morning, fed up with not being able to get the city manager to find other ways to reduce the city’s budget besides cutting police officers from the payroll.
Back and forth they paced up and down the sidewalk in front of the East St. Louis City Hall carrying signs that said laying off police means higher political salaries. The signs denounced any layoffs of police, saying the layoffs would lead to more crime.
Union President Mario Fennoy said they have met several times with City Manager Alvin L. Parks Jr. in an effort to get him to find other options besides laying off police. But those meetings have not made a difference. As of Friday, eight police officers were laid off.
“We have 56 officers and the city manager wants 44, including administrators and every police officer. Our minimum manning mandates there be six officers and two supervisors, one for the street and one for the desk,” Fennoy said. “There is supposed to be one officer per the six districts we have.”
If the manpower is reduced to four police and two supervisors, Fennoy said this is a recipe for disaster. In fact, he called it ridiculous and said there is no way the residents or the police officer, who is basically working without any help, is safe. He said the city manager is not taking into account sick days, vacation days or personal days.
Parks said “it is a scheduling matter” that the chief of police, the public safety director and he will work together to fix. He said the chief of police along with detectives and command staff will all work the streets. He said the city and the police union are still negotiating and he hopes that the two parties can agree on an intermediate and long-term memorandum of understanding so we can be fiscally responsible and support the law enforcement presence we all desire. Parks said the city no longer has 70,000 residents. Instead, there are 27,000 residents, and the city can no longer afford to staff and pay the Police Department the salaries they received when the contract was agreed upon years ago. He said the Fire Department worked out an agreement that is amicable to them and the city and no firefighters were laid off.
Fennoy said if Parks thinks outside agencies are going to come to help East St. Louis out to the level he thinks, “that’s not true. They are overworked and short-handed, too.” And, he said the other surrounding departments, Brooklyn, Centreville, Alorton and Cahokia all have their own challenges.
He said while fighting fires is a dangerous profession, police work involves a higher degree of danger because people wielding dangerous weapons, including guns and knives often meet police when they respond to domestic situations, home invasions, robberies, burglaries and more.
“You can’t continue to pay what you don’t have,” Parks said. “When your revenues are not going up with your expenditures, you have to do what you have to do.”
A major contributing problem that has forced the city to do the layoffs is “a majority of the highest paid salaries in East St. Louis are paid to people who do not live in East St. Louis and who do not contribute to the tax base,” Parks said.
“We want them to agree to a memorandum of understanding that lowers the minimum staff by 25 percent or from eight patrolmen to six. Parks said a previous city manager under-represented the amount of money the city has paid in workers’ compensation and a drop in revenue the city received from the Casino Queen.
Fennoy said Parks makes more as city manager than he did as mayor – $100,000, with a car, spending account, medical benefits and free gas paid for by the city.
Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks said laying off police officers is not something she wants to do, but cuts have to be made.
“I am one of the last people who wants to see officers laid off. The city’s financial situation didn’t just occur. Difficult decisions have to be made,” Jackson-Hicks said. “I addressed the financial issues and the plan I had for the city in my transition plan. A part of that plan was to do exactly what Officer Fennoy is talking about – to review all contracts and reduce and eliminate some. For example, the transition plan proposed to reduce high legal contracts, construction management contracts, the Financial Management Consultant contract as well as the TIF consulting contract. The implementation of our transition plan was cut very short at the initial stage. I sounded the alarm about the budget deficit shortly after being sworn in. This was the purpose of the budget town hall meeting in August. We have contracts that need to be cut and even eliminated. Unfortunately cuts have to be made, and some of those cuts have been made in the Police Department.”