Homewood trustees approved a budget amendment Tuesday, Aug. 23, that will enable the police department to add two patrol officer positions.
Police Chief Bill Alcott said the request for new positions is in anticipation of greater demand on the department as a result of business expansion on Halsted Street.
"With the expanding businesses on Halsted, the police department will have an increase in their call volume," he said. "With the two additional officers we'll be looking to add higher visibility on the Halsted corridor."
Alcott said the additional staff would allow the department to increase its presence on Halsted while continuing the current level of service for the rest of the village. The department staffing level is down slightly from the pre-recession level, he said.
Walmart's new supercenter at Halsted and 175th streets is slated to open this fall, and it will be followed by a major expansion at Menards, directly east across Halsted.
According to village crime statistics, the total number of thefts dropped following the closure late in 2013 of the Kmart Supercenter at the intersection of 175th and Halsted streets.
After a peak of 804 in 2006, thefts averaged 623 per year between 2007 and 2013. In 2014, thefts dropped to 492 and in 2015 to 434. Of the 434 in 2015, 211 were retail thefts, according to statistics supplied by Deputy Police Chief Denise McGrath.
Working theft cases is not the only demand on police officers in busy retail areas, she said.
"Anything that increases traffic in an area has the potential to increase police activity," she added. "That can be anything from service calls such as lockout calls (keys locked in a vehicle) to motor vehicle crashes."
"We want more coverage," Village President Richard Hofeld told Alcott, expanding on supportive comments from trustees. "We want you as chief to have the flexibility of having additional police officers and putting them where you think it's appropriate. You're the expert."
Trustee Jay Heiferman asked about the overtime figure on the budget for the new positions.
"Wouldn't increasing officers decrease overtime?" he said.
Alcott agreed that over a period of time overtime costs could go down, but the budget was crafted to err on the high side, he said.
Hofeld said because the two positions were not included in the current budget, the money will come from reserve funds. The $72,704 includes salaries, uniform allowance, training and health insurance costs.
"The reserve funds are very, very healthy," Hofeld said.
Village officials have been working in recent years to rebuild reserves that were reduced during the most recent recession. Finance Director Dennis Bubenik noted that increased sales tax revenue from Walmart could eventually help cover the cost of the new positions.