SPRINGFIELD — Laying off state troopers may lead to slower response times to accidents and could hamper a recently launched methamphetamine prevention campaign in southern Illinois, a number of county sheriffs said Thursday.
“The cuts to the Illinois State Police are going to be a tremendous blow to us,” Union County Sheriff David Livesay said Thursday. “We don’t have the personnel to put out there.”
As part of his budget plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1, Gov. Pat Quinn is proposing to lay off 460 troopers. The probable retirement of another 140 troopers could leave the state with about 30 percent fewer troopers than there are now.
On Tuesday, state police Director Jonaton Monken said the cuts also will result in the closure of five of 22 regional offices, including one in Carmi covering seven counties in southeastern Illinois.
Saline County Sheriff Keith Brown said a plan is likely in place to help cope with the headquarters closing. But because state police are often called out to accidents, the response time from law enforcement could be delayed.
“Any time you lose resources, it’s a bad thing,” he said. “We are stressed in southern Illinois, especially with manpower.”
For instance, three bicyclists were hit by a van in Gallatin County on Wednesday. One bicyclist was killed and all were airlifted to a hospital. The state police is needed for situations like these because the agency specializes in accident reconstruction, said Brown.
Livesay said state police investigators also assist the sheriff’s department with criminal offenses, including homicides and sexual assaults.
“Without those troopers on the road or those investigators helping us, putting forth the manpower, putting forth the equipment needed to do that, it is going to be a tremendous burden for us to try and pick that up,” Livesay said.
State Reps. David Reis and Brandon Phelps, whose districts intersect with Carmi, said they have requested an interview with the governor to discuss the proposed Carmi closure. Both are hoping it can be avoided.
“I’m definitely going to remain hopeful that we’re going to get something done,” said Phelps, D-Harrisburg. “I don’t think Governor Quinn or his staff wants to hurt public safety by any means. Hopefully they can get a grip on this.
Reis, R-Willow Hill, suggested it might be better to scale back all district offices, instead of just one.
The three closest district headquarters to Carmi are Du Quoin, Ullin and Effingham. All three cities are roughly two hours from Carmi.
The proposed layoffs also will slow down the Illinois Sheriff’s Association’s third methamphetamine prevention campaign, which was launched Thursday.
“A lot of our meth arrests come from simple traffic stops made and evidence found in the vehicles,” Livesay said.
The campaign is targeting the southernmost 15 counties in Illinois.
State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, said the meth problem in southern Illinois began to tail off a few years ago. But as unemployment has risen, so has the problem.
“Meth is probably the biggest problem in my district than any place in the state of Illinois,” Forby said. “It is a tough thing, especially with the unemployment the way it is right now.”
At a news conference on Thursday, Gov. Pat Quinn wouldn’t say whether a 33 percent income tax increase intended for schools would free up enough cash to prevent cuts to the Illinois State Police.
“In order to get the resources, we’re going to have to be very creative,” Quinn said.