By Bob Balgemann


A veteran city police officer will be assigned to work with the Boone County Health Department on a variety of fronts having to do with the drug abuse and mental health problems within the community, as well its existing domestic violence issues.

The 6-4 vote came March 1 to approve a resolution authorizing an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Boone County and the health department to hire the community officer. The vast majority of costs associated with the officer would be covered by a $94,077 grant Comprehensive Opioid Stimulant and Substance Abuse Program (COSSAP) grant, received by the Boone County Behavioral Health Task Force.

Voting in favor of hiring the officer were aldermen Mike McGee, Tom Ratcliffe, Dan Snow, Daniel Arevalo, Matt Fleury and Wendy Frank.   

Dissenting were aldermen Marsha Freeman, Tom Porter, Clayton Stevens and Ric Brereton.

With that, Mayor Mike Chamberlain said the resolution for the intergovernmental agreement with Boone County and the health department to hire a community police officer had passed.

Discussion lasted for more than one hour and before the vote on the IGA, Brereton offered an amendment to the motion on the floor to split costs 50-50 with the county on any expenses of the officer not covered by the grant. The vote deadlocked, 5-5, with Chamberlain breaking the tie and voting no, which meant the motion failed.

Voting in support of the amendment were aldermen Frank, McGee, Porter, Stevens and Brereton. 

Voting ‘no’ were aldermen Freeman, Snow, Arevalo, Fleury and Ratcliffe.

Chief’s comments

Police Chief Shane Woody opened the lengthy discussion to begin the meeting, addressing concerns that had been expressed about hiring the officer. In some of his comments he reiterated what had been explained at past meetings.

“One of the questions that seems to keep getting asked is why should the Belvidere Police Department participate in this grant, rather than the Boone County Sheriff’s Dept.?” he began. “I previously said when our department had the opportunity to participate in this grant that it complemented our community outreach.

“This grant would give your police department the opportunity to expand beyond its traditional community police into proactive, problem-oriented community policing in an attempt to mitigate overdoses attributed to heroin and other controlled substances.

“When I researched the problem I found that over the past five years the city of Belvidere bore the weight of these problems.” He added that city police responded to over 107 calls for service when someone was overdosing. Fifty-six of those calls were attributed to heroin alone. In contrast, the sheriff’s department responded to 28 calls for service for someone overdosing, with nine of them relating to heroin.

The Belvidere Police Department’s annual report shows an increase of more than 300 percent in heroin overdoses and a 50 percent increase in drug overdoses since 2017.

Woody provided many more statistics to support the claim that there is a health crisis in all of the areas in which the community police officer would be working. “I truly believe this is a great opportunity not only for our department but for the community,” he said.

Before that, he explained that the community police officer also would provide guidance and assistance to individuals and families of domestic violence and how to go about obtaining the services and resources they need that are already available.

“Your police department responds to an average of 1,740 domestic violence calls a year,” he said.

In addition, that officer would be responsible for reaching out to people in Belvidere “who have been identified by patrol and other partners as in need of mental health services,” he added. “In the last five years, Belvidere Police Department has responded to 437 calls involving people with some kind of mental health issues up to and including suicide.”

Then he provided some statewide statistics.

* A study done by the state of Illinois in 2017 showed that in Illinois, since 2008, overdoses had killed nearly 11,000 people and determined the opioid epidemic was the most substantial health and public safety crisis facing Illinois.

* The number of heroin deaths has nearly doubled since 2013. There were 583 heroin-related deaths in Illinois in 2013 and more than 1,000 deaths in 2016.

Other comments

Comments followed on both sides of the motion to hire the community police officer.

“This (proposal) may look good on paper but when you peel back the layers, it gets costly,” Freeman said. “My opinion is that an officer knocking on doors would not be as effective as a trained professional.

“No one is denying the need for an outreach program here in Boone County. The numbers speak for themselves. I just am not sold on an officer being the best person for that job.”

Fleury commended the behavioral health task force for its work, and its recommendation of using a police officer for this work made sense to him. “The grant will pay the majority of the cost,” he said. “This is a good deal for the city to save lives.”

Freeman asked health department Administrator Amanda Mehl what would happen if the vote failed that night. Would the health department still be able to use the COSSAP grant in conjunction with the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, or another professional dedicated to the services you’re looking for down at the health department.”

Mehl replied that task force officials would have to return to the Department of Justice and rewrite the grant. “You (council) are a critical piece of the puzzle,” she said.

Brereton then raised the question of sharing with the sheriff’s dept. any costs for the officer that weren’t covered by the grant, and he put on the floor a motion to that effect.

Before that aldermen Porter and Stevens, who ultimately voted against the IGA, raised questions about it. Support for hiring the officer was expressed by Snow, who pointed to the overwhelming community support for taking this step.

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