Cerro Gordo considering eliminating local police department

The village board and community members gathered Monday to discuss the possibility of contracting with the Piatt County Sheriff’s Department. (WCCU)

The Cerro Gordo community considering eliminating its police department was the center of discussion during the village board's public meeting Monday night. The board and community members gathered in a packed room to discuss the town's future of policing and the possibility of contracting with the Piatt County Sheriff’s Department.

“There are people coming and going in town all the time and eliminating the local police department is going to be noticed that our presence is gone and that's where I’m concerned,” one resident expressed during the meeting.

The public meeting was organized after the police chief of 13 years Pat Carter, resigned in January leaving the department with only two police officers rotating 8-hour shifts per day a week.

“As far as safety it's a real safe town,” resident John Schooley said. “But if anything they need more [officers] and it's not like they don't have the money I’m sure they have the money.”

Village board president Brad Williams said funding is a factor when it comes to the proposal. He added rural communities like Cerro Gordo with a population of about 1,500 face limits on its ability to raise revenues to pay for policing services and said a common problem in small towns is that police vacancies serve as an entry-level position for many recruits.

Williams said the proposed change is common in small towns, giving the example of Savoy contracting with Champaign County Sheriff's Office. The village board also talked about the option of hiring a new police chief, but Williams said it will be challenging to find someone with experience who would be willing to move in town, and Cerro Gordo cannot operate a local police department without a police chief.

During the meeting, some people expressed how they don’t want to get rid of the local services, but Williams said if the village signs the four-year contract with Piatt County, they will have the same coverage they have right now, adding that the change will not increase the cost to taxpayers.

“I think it’s a very good idea to contract with Piatt County, where we don’t know this person on a first-name basis, he’s not going to go up and talk to everybody at Judy's Kitchen and see what’s going on with your life because it’s none of your business what’s going on in your life or your family’s life, his job is to police our town not be our best friend,” a community member expressed during the meeting.

The board will continue discussing the idea next week.

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