Park district police described as $5 million redundancy
It costs Illinois municipalities $5 million to maintain park district police forces that cover areas already under the watchful eye of the regular police department, the Better Government Association reported recently.
Of the 339 park districts in Illinois, only 19 keep a separate park police force. The others depend on the local police departments to ensure safety in their parks, the BGA says.
The BGA also argues that the increased liability to the park district and the apparent nepotism found in some departments make them more of a hindrance than a help.
It points to the case of former Chicago Police Officer Gildardo Sierra, who was involved in two fatal shootings, a federal investigation and $7.5 million in lawsuits. After he left the department in 2015, he was hired by his brother-in-law, Jose Maldonado, at the Chicago Heights Park District.
Maldonado has since been suspended due to DUI charges and Sierra is no longer with the department.
Christian Daigre, acting chief of the Chicago Heights Park District, maintained the need for a separate park force.
“People get shot and killed in these parks; they get robbed; cars get stolen and set on fire,” Daigre told the BGA. “This is not Mayberry.”
While Daigre's park police department was established just five years ago, others have closed, including the one covering the Memorial Park District, which recently settled a lawsuit for $1.7 million. It was sued because its police allegedly wrote numerous tickets on and off park property. Approximately half of the settlement will refund tickets issued as far back as 1984. The park district insurance will pay the settlement.
“Guys love to have a badge and a wallet to flash so they can drive like idiots,” Mari Herrell, executive district of the Memorial Park District, told the BGA. “They cannot get on a real police department.”
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