WINFIELD — When the Winfield Police Department announced its decision not to renew its contract with the Lake County Sheriff's Department, concerns rose about the force’s ability to provide 24/7 coverage to the town.
After wrapping up the first month of the year, “so far, so good,” Winfield Town Marshal Dan Ball said.
“We’ve got 24/7 coverage, seven days a week now. We have covered all of the calls,” Ball said. “We are able to handle it.”
Lake County Police Chief Bill Paterson, on the other hand, was a little less enthusiastic.
Winfield is on the same radio channel as the county, said Paterson, who initially called the town’s decision not to renew “premature and shortsighted.” Before the contract’s expiration Dec. 31, both departments worked together with dispatchers combining calls. Now, each department receives calls individually, causing gaps in communication, he said.
“Winfield officers are not always answering the radio when dispatch makes a call, making our guys have to wait for a response. Rather than holding the call, dispatch has been sending our officers out,” Paterson said, adding that the county handled 20 calls for Winfield in January.
In response, Ball said he was not initially contacted by patrol supervisors or the Central 911 Dispatch Center about the issues, adding that the town Police Department has “an excellent relationship with the Lake County sheriff’s police department.”
Talking with Paterson shortly after, Ball said he was told no specific incidents could be described, but he believed the dispatch center “is still adjusting to not sending a county officer to Winfield for routine calls.”
While they may not have a contract with the county, the departments still assist one another as part of a mutual aid agreement, Ball said.
“So, since we only usually have one officer on duty at a time, if there is ever another need for another backup officer, the county has agreed that they will be in the area and absolutely assist us,” Ball said.
By the numbers
Since its establishment in 1993, Winfield was policed by county officers.
The reason the town decided not to renew its contract this year, which added extra police protection by the county, is because of its growing police force, Ball said. Currently, the department consists of four full-time and 12 active part-time officers.
Last month, the Winfield Police Department responded to more than 200 calls, arresting 13 adults, seven of which were for drunken driving charges.
The department also conducted 85 traffic stops, issued 88 citations and another 43 parking citations, which Ball said were related to the three large snowstorms that hit the town.
“I am very pleased with the response of our officers and the work that they are doing for the people of Winfield,” the marshal said.
Including Ball, the department’s full-time officers are Deputy Marshals Branden Benton, Brock Moore and Ryan Kovacik, who made the first arrest of the year.
Part-time officers, all of whom have completed basic academy certifications and are sworn officers, cover many of the weekend hours and help fill in during the week when a full-time officer is out for training or vacation.
Most of the part-time officers work for other agencies and live in Winfield. Staff could increase throughout the year as the department continues to receive inquiries from interested officers, Ball said.
Even though Ball admitted to the Sheriff’s Department in late December through email exchanges there may be times "when there is no Winfield officer on duty,” Paterson said so far, that has not been the case. He said the county has not received any reports that the town police didn’t have an officer on duty at all times.
“We are always concerned with how many officers they have,” Paterson said. “We will still help them; we want to make sure they have the resources they need to handle themselves.”
With the new officers and the addition of K9 Officer Tank, Ball said he is confident in his staff and its ability to continue policing the town.
“We are running 24/7. When residents call 911, we get dispatched just like every other agency in Lake County. I want the residents to be assured that when they call, a Winfield officer will be arriving on scene,” Ball said.