Hinsdale Police Chief Brad Bloom said he’s glad a potential police-department merger with Clarendon Hills is not being explored hastily.
“If we were facing a big budget shortfall and had to do it fast, I’d be concerned about quality issues,” Bloom said.
Bloom’s department is not in emergency mode in 2011 despite having to lay off two officers in 2010 and leave one position on the force unfilled. But the chief said all the cuts that can be made without negatively affecting service have been made and the department is “absolutely” looking at a reduced budget in the future.
Those concerns have led the to consider a full police-department merge with Clarendon Hills, . Bloom said a full merge would be unprecedented in Illinois.
The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority is a state agency that will provide research and legal help to Hinsdale and Clarendon Hills. Bloom said the agency sees the merger as "cutting-edge" and a potential model for other departments in similar situations.
According to Hinsdale village manager David Cook, the police-merger conversation began in the summer of 2010 between four area communities—Hinsdale, Clarendon Hills, Oak Brook, and Burr Ridge. Oak Brook eventually chose not to pursue a merger and Willowbrook later joined the talks.
Cauley said that after a few meetings it became apparent he and Clarendon Hills Village President Tom Karaba were on the same page.
“At some point it looked like the most likely scenario would be for Clarendon Hills and Hinsdale to do something together, at least as a first step,” Cauley said.
For Cauley, the two communities are a "natural fit" because they are side by side, share a school district, and have previously established an automatic aid agreement between their fire departments.
Discussions of merge specifics are in a preliminary state, according to Bloom, who believes governance and equity are the biggest hurdles in front of the two departments. Bloom said it will have to be determined how the new department would be directed, how it would report to two village boards, and how the two municipalities would split costs.
Cost-wise, Cauley said a merger would provide savings for Hinsdale by, over time, reducing staff through attrition and sharing police pension funding obligations.
No fiscal analysis has been run by Hinsdale village staff at this point, so specific savings amounts have yet to be determined, according to Cook. The village manager said that because no layoffs will come directly from the merge, the benefits will likely take 18 to 24 months to show. In the Hinsdale department, there are two officers nearing retirement whose salaries would come off the books in the near future, Cook said.
The potential shared department would likely be able to operate with one chief and two deputy chiefs, according to Cook, while the two departments today contain two chiefs and three deputy chiefs.
The sale of surplus police vehicles and several small-ticket items, Cook said, would likely lead to additional savings.
Cauley said he’s not worried that a combined department would be any less responsive than two separate departments. In fact, the village president said, the budget cuts ahead of the Hinsdale department without a merge is what’s worrisome to him.
“That would indeed endanger public safety,” Cauley said. “One of the reasons we’re doing this is to not endanger it.”
There is still “a tremendous amount of work to do” on the potential merger, according to Cook. Residents shouldn’t expect anything beyond status updates at any upcoming Board of Trustees meetings.
And while Chief Bloom is happy the villages are taking their time, President Cauley said he thinks the fiscal importance of a merger makes it more than just a consideration.
“It’s not a trial balloon,” Cauley said. “It’s something we’re going to do.”
Editor's note: On Wednesday, Patch will have part two of the police-department merge story, which will feature the opinions of Clarendon Hills officials.