E. St. Louis has more police cars than cops

Monday, October 15, 2001

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. -- The city's understaffed police department hired only two new officers this year, and department officials might have to lay off some officers because of shrinking city coffers.

At the same time, two U.S. Department of Justice block grants totaling about $1.2 million have allowed the department to embark on a car-buying binge. The department bought 15 new squad cars already, and plans to buy another 23 cars -- including six new sport utility vehicles -- by the end of the year.

This will boost the size of the department's fleet to 108 vehicles for a force of 61 officers.

To residents such as Lillie Butler, the abundance of police vehicles makes no sense when there is a shortage of police on the street.

"As far as I'm concerned, we have enough vehicles," said Butler, a member of the Dayton-Wedgewood Neighborhood Association, on the city's east side. "What they need to do is get more policemen."

Police Chief Delbert Marion said he knows his department is understaffed. But he said cuts in the city budget being crafted for next year could force him to lay off up to 23 officers -- or nearly 40 percent of the department.

During a public hearing last week, Marion said the department needs at least 120 officers to protect the city adequately.

But a $610,474 law enforcement block grant the department is receiving for this year is earmarked for equipment only, Marion said.

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