The Streator Police Department is close to beginning use of community service officers.
A man and a woman have been selected for the part-time positions, said Streator Police Chief Kurt Pastirik. They will begin training once their uniforms are ready, which could be as early as the first of February.
The unarmed community service officers will wear separate uniforms with different patches than sworn officers. They also will drive a vehicle labeling them as community service officers.
The idea of the community service officer program is to maximize the time sworn officers spend on duties that require their qualifications, such as drug enforcement, domestic violence calls, theft or other criminal activities.
The other aspect of the program is to reduce costs in the city's budget. The CSOs are paid $17.50 per hour, but they won't receive insurance or pension benefits with the city.
The minimum manning of three sworn officers per shift has not changed for the department. Community service officers are not counted in that number.
At this time, the department — which has 24 total officers, including the chief, deputy chief and investigators — has two day shifts of three sworn officers apiece, and two night shifts of four sworn officers each. The community service officers will work an average of 20 hours per week, starting out on only the day shifts, Pastirik said.
The department typically has five officers on its night shifts, but Officer Mike Sass is deployed overseas with the military and another officer is out on an injury.
The department hired Drew Fritts, of Streator, to become a full-time officer. He started schooling Jan. 21 and will need 12 to 14 weeks of field officer training before he takes shifts, which will be in mid- to late summer.
The city's two school resource officers also will be able to join shifts during the summer while school is not in session, Pastirik said.
There has been interest from sworn officers outside of Streator assisting the department in a part-time role, but the city still is looking into those possible additions.
Community service officers can handle parking violations, lockouts of vehicles, assisting motorists, private property accidents, fingerprinting, sex offender registrations, lost and found property reports and delivery of paperwork to state’s attorney, among other activities.
About 14.3 percent of calls fell into these categories, Pastirik told the City Council in a November meeting.
Pastirik is optimistic the community service officers will free up time for sworn officers to do tasks only they can do, which involves patrols and arrests.
Since the program is starting from scratch, Pastirik said there will be many variables to figure out from the tasks the CSOs handle to dispatching and communication, among other items. He also said there will be a lot of training necessary for the community service officers.
Pastirik will ultimately have a better idea of how the community service officers will be utilized over time as the program gets underway.
The police chief said community service officers will not be sent to calls that put them in harm's way, which means dispatchers will need to be trained on the kinds of calls the part-time officers will handle. Community service officers will need to call a sworn officer any time an incident goes beyond their jurisdiction or becomes dangerous.
City Manager Scot Wrighton has said there will be a reduction in the cost of salaries in the 2019 budget from full-time officers, but he anticipates a slight increase in overtime to compensate for having to run more shifts at minimum staffing.
The City Council has said the use of community service officers is a strategy to maintain public safety without raising property tax rates.
While the city's police union has agreed to the use of community service officers, the city's firefighters union has objected to them doing any work set forth in their contract. The City Council has heard the possibility of having community service officers handle code enforcement and medical assistance calls currently handled by firefighters, to which the firefighters union believes, if it were to be done, is a violation of collective bargaining agreements.