Intelligence Report: New crossroads for poverty-ridden Chicago suburb Ford Heights

June 25, 2012 4:28:15 PM PDT
In this Intelligence Report: A dilemma in one of the nation's poorest towns, south suburban Ford Heights. Four years ago, village officials there did away with their police department, saying they couldn't afford to pay officers. Now Ford Heights is at a new crossroads.

In the past 30 years, south suburban Ford Heights has lost half of its population, just 2,700 people live there, according to the most recent data, most of them below the poverty level.

In 2008, the Cook County Sheriff took over police patrols in Ford Heights when the village could no longer afford its own department.

Now, even though the town appears no better off financially, leaders are under orders to reinstate the Ford Heights police.

There once were three dozen officers on the Ford Heights police force, trying to keep the peace in a village weighed down with guns and addled by drugs, both have which have produced extremely high crime statistics.

Ford Heights police stopped showing up; others resigned, were fired or indicted.

More than four years ago, came a stunning announcement from the police chief: Earl Bridges said they can't provide police.

The Cook County Sheriff's Department took over. Ford Heights was supposed to be paid to patrol, but with the suburb broke, ever since then the village has been patrolled at Cook County taxpayer's expense. A decision by the Illinois Labor Relations Board a year and a half ago reversed that action, saying, Ford Heights should have given its own officers the chance to negotiate before bringing in Cook County.

Ford Heights appealed and, the I-Team has learned, recently lost. According to the appellate court decision, Ford Heights engaged in "unfair labor practice." The decision ordered the village to restore the four Ford Heights officers to the same positions they held back in 2008.

The problem is, to "operate a fully manned, 24 hour, 7 day a week department," authorities estimate the cost to be nearly $600,000 annually.

Ford Heights officials didn't return the I-Team's calls, but their website continues to state that "the Village of Ford Heights is policed by the Cook County Sheriff's Office...employing more than 6,800 officers, deputies and civilians."

With Ford Heights deep in debt, and free police protection already in place, the village has little ability or incentive to follow the court order and rebuild its own police force.

If the police union that was party to the lawsuit finds no effort being made by Ford Heights and complains to the labor board, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan could step in to enforce the order.

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