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Official: Fewer officers, same services

Peru Police Chief Doug Bernabei contends his department could share services with three others and keep the same level of services.

To make his argument, he compares next door neighbors La Salle and Peru, with a combined population of 19,000, to Ottawa, which is only slightly smaller. The well-respected Ottawa Police Department employs 34 officers, Bernabei said, while La Salle and Peru has a combined 47.

This comparison, Bernabei said, shows La Salle and Peru can get by with fewer officers without affecting services. As it is, the two departments duplicate many of the same services — for instance, having their own evidence officers, he said. That could end when the police departments in La Salle, Peru, Oglesby and Spring Valley start sharing functions.

In January, the four towns agreed to start looking into the idea of having a single police station for all four jurisdictions. Such sharing, officials say, could save the departments $250 million over the next 60 years. Several years ago, the towns merged their emergency dispatchers, for a projected savings of $750,000 per year.

If staff is reduced, officials have said, it would happen through attrition, not layoffs.

Every month, a committee made up of officials from each community meets to address the police-sharing issue. On Tuesday, it approved a top-shelf downtown Chicago law firm Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins, to handle the legal aspects, as well as Ottawa architectural firm Basalay, Cary & Alstadt to design the police station.

Members agreed to pay the law firm up to $30,000 in the first phase, paying senior attorneys $260 an hour, a rate that Bernabei called "extremely competitive."

During public comment, Peru attorney Julie Ajster questioned whether the four towns would see $250 million in savings, saying she has seen information they won't reduce their forces by much.

"The whole purpose of consolidation is savings," she said.

After the meeting, Ajster said she wondered why the towns were choosing an architect when they don't know many of the details about what types of services would be shared.

At the same time, it's not entirely certain Spring Valley will remain in the arrangement.

Justin Miller, Peru's finance officer, said he crunched the numbers for the four towns, finding that Spring Valley won't see the type of savings the others will. For starters, the town hires part-time officers, so savings on pensions and benefits will be less.

"There are so many variables," he said.

Spring Valley Alderman Ken Bogacz said he was opposed to Spring Valley joining, although he could see where merging services could help the other three towns.

The idea of sharing services came about after Peru officials started giving thought to building a new police station, with the idea that all four towns could share it.

The committee plans to meet at 11 a.m. on the last Tuesday of every month.

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