Motorists traveling through South Jacksonville are pumping the brakes more often now that the Police Department will be fully staffed soon.
South Jacksonville Chief of Police Eric Hansell updated the Village Trustees last week, telling them that the last new hire will be finishing training soon. Law enforcement across the country has been struggling with recruiting and retaining officers over the last several years.
Hansell says it had gotten so bad at one point in his Department that he was taking multiple shifts to help cover street patrol, and that the personnel being spread so thin across the board led to a lot of lapses in coverage.
Despite the down numbers in new law enforcement recruits and the pandemic wreaking havoc with accessibility to training academy spots, the South Jacksonville Police Department was able to hire four new officers in May of last year, three of which needed to be trained. Hansell says it’s been a long process, but his department is seeing the benefit of staying the course.
“So we went from essentially losing all of our staff from 2020 to 2021, to we will be up to six patrolmen, one full-time detective and then myself as the Chief. So we will be able to run two day shift officers, two midnight officers, two mid-shift officers, so during our peak times of traffic and more activity in town we will hopefully have two people working to help keep up with things.”
Hansell told the Board of Trustees Thursday during Committee of the Whole, that the increased level of staffing is making a big difference in response times and general police work such as cracking down on speeders.
Hansel says during the pandemic, law enforcement as a whole shifted to trying to have as little in-person contact as possible with the public to help minimize the spread. He says a lot of police work went to over the phone and officers were only going out to a location if they had to collect evidence to take pictures. He says residents and crossing guards are still feeling the strain from the lack of visible staff.
“Traffic enforcement was basically put to a halt, and when people drive for a year or year and a half and they don’t see many officers making traffic stops or they are speeding and nobody turns around on them, you know it just kinda builds. And we’ve been getting a lot of complaints about traffic speed on South Main Street. Even though it’s a four-lane road like Morton Avenue, South Main is only thirty miles an hour. Morton Avenue is thirty-five, so if you’re going five miles over at thirty-five, now you’re going forty, well at South Main if you’re running forty you’re doing ten miles over. A lot of residents and the crossing guard there have complained about the speed. Well, because we have the staffing now to go out, we are actually stepping up our traffic enforcement.”
Hansell says hopefully the visual of more traffic stops on South Main and throughout the Village will slow the speed back down. He says his department is also working on acquiring electronic speed zone signs similar to those in use by the city near Jacksonville Middle School and several elementary schools that show motorists their current speed and flash a light when they are over the limit.
He says the plan is to at least install one on Vandialia near South School but to also have more than one that can be moved throughout the Village to help remind people to slow down. He says, for now, the increased number of officers on the street is helping to keep everyone in the Village as safe as possible.