COMMUNITY NEWS

City to Host Mahomet Aquifer Summit

DECATUR – The City of Decatur in conjunction with the Mahomet Aquifer Protection Alliance will host the Mahomet Aquifer Summit from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday May 3 at Richland Community College’s Shilling Center, located at 1 College Park in Decatur.

The event is being held to inform the public about significant pending threats that could jeopardize the viability of the aquifer as a safe drinking water source for an estimated 750,000 people throughout the area, including residents in Decatur and throughout Macon County. Clinton Landfill Inc. has filed a request with the U.S. EPA to be permitted to dispose of industrial waste containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at its Clinton landfill site located directly over the aquifer. PCBs are toxic organic compounds that are known carcinogens regulated by the Federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

            City of Decatur wells in DeWitt County access the Mahomet Aquifer. These wells have been utilized five times in the last fourteen years to provide drinking water to residents during periods of drought.

As part of the Summit speakers will discuss:

  • Legal and legislative initiatives to protect and maintain the Mahomet Aquifer as a safe drinking-water source
  • Current threats to the safety of the Mahomet Aquifer
  • Hydrogeology of the Mahomet Aquifer
  • Opportunities and needs for individual and regional governmental involvement
  • Ways that the public can get involved.

“This is not a situation where you can wait until something happens because then it will be too late,” said Mayor Mike McElroy. “The question is not ‘if’ we will have to utilize this site for our drinking water, it’s ‘when’ and ‘for how long.’”

“We need to make sure that as a community the health and safety of our residents is not threatened by the storage of toxic materials over one of our sources of drinking water.”

      The City is hosting the event in conjunction with the Mahomet Aquifer Protection Alliance, a collective of Central Illinois communities and environmental protection advocates looking to protect the Mahomet Aquifer from contamination.

      This event is free and open to the public. Visit www.mahometaquifer.org or cleanwater4midil.org for more information about the Mahomet Aquifer. Contact Billy Tyus at 217-424-2727 for more information about the Mahomet Aquifer Summit.

City’s Director Of Water Management Reports To
Council On Fish Screen Failure And Schedule 


Keith Alexander, Director of Water Management, recently briefed the Decatur City Council on the fish screen failure and schedule. (See “City Beat” on Home Page.)
Following is the report:
• Background -- On February 20 and 21st the lake started to raise very quickly due to heavy localized rainfall and melting conditions. The local tributaries, Long Creek and Friends Creek rose dramatically in a very short time causing  the lake to raise 2 feet in 24 hours. At that time the north bascule gates were lowered and the sluice gates were raised to release water to avoid flooding properties adjacent to the lake.  On February 22 the fish screens failed and went into the stilling basin below the dam. Since that time, due to icing conditions, 3 of the screens on the South end of the dam have come off as well.
There has been no indication that any of the fish screen structure has gone down stream.  
Hanson Engineering conducted a preliminary  inspection of the remaining parts left on top of the dam on March 14, 2014 after the bascule gates could be raised to accommodate the inspection. The final evaluation will be conducted upon retrieval of the parts in the stilling basin. 
The contractor is scheduled to arrive and retrieve the fish screens on April 7, weather permitting
Hanson Engineering will further evaluate the damage to determine a cause when the fish screens are retrieved. 
Why hasn't the fish screen been repaired yet?
Large amounts of water needed to be released to regulate the Lake level preventing the bascule gates to be raised to retrieve the screens
Icing conditions on the Lake prevented the dam to be inspected to evaluate the cause of the failure
After Hanson Engineering inspected the dam, a time was set for the Contractor to return, retrieve the screens and reconstruct the structure
The Contractor will be here on April 7 & 8 to retrieve the parts in the Stilling Basin
Why wasn't the water held back temporarily to allow us to get the damaged screen?
There was too much water flowing in the Sangamon River into the Lake to raise the gates so the screens could be retrieved. If the gates were raised at that time it would have caused some flooding around the lake.
When is the Contractor going to get it fixed?
The Contractor will be here on April 7 & 8, weather permitting, to retrieve the fish screens so Hanson Engineering can continue their investigation of the failure.
What is the risk of Asian Carp getting into the Lake?
The risk is low unless we experience much higher than average spring rain runoff which causes the river level to dramatically rise to within a few feet of the top of the dam gates.  Asian Carp have recently been reported in the Sangamon River downstream of the Sanitary District facility.  As the river water warms up this spring it is anticipated that Asian Carp will once again swim upstream to the base of the Lake Decatur dam.  Due to the City’s recent work in the river channel, which eliminated the large pond of water downstream of the dam, there may be less Asian Carp by the dam compared to previous years.


CHIC at DMH opens April 15

Decatur Memorial Hospital and the Community Health Improvement Center (CHIC) have partnered together to form a new access clinic for the community called CHIC at DMH. The new clinic, located adjacent to the DMH Emergency Care Center, opens April 15, and will provide primary care services to non-emergent people who have Medicaid or are uninsured.

This is the first access clinic to be located inside a hospital in Decatur.

“CHIC at DMH provides the correct level of healthcare at a convenient location which helps improve accessi- bility and lowers costs,” said Timothy D. Stone, Jr., Executive Vice President and Administrator, Decatur Memorial Hospital.

“DMH is providing Decatur with a very valuable community service gift,” says Tanya Andricks, Executive Director, CHIC. “Through the partnership with CHIC, DMH is helping give people another option for primary care that otherwise might not be able to access health care.”

CHIC is designated as a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC).

The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) approve federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) in an effort to provide easier access to care, to help realign resources and to hopefully redirect long- term patterns of access to care. FQHCs must provide care for an underserved area or population.

Approximately 22 percent of the population in Macon County is living in poverty according to the most recent statistics from the United States Census Bureau.

“We’re hoping to redirect non-acute patients from the DMH Emergency Care Center and begin changing the way some patients have learned to access health care,” Andricks said.

CHIC at DMH will be open from 1—9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and will be staffed by one physician or physician assistant, a nurse and a clerical employee.

“We immediately screen every patient who presents to the Emergency Care Center,” says DMH Emergency Care Center Director Karen Schneller, RN. “If the patient does not meet the
criteria as an emergency patient and if the patient does not have a personal physician, the patient will be given the option to seek care at CHIC at DMH.”

Patients who opt to be seen in the CHIC at DMH clinic can choose to become a CHIC patient. 

City Aggregation Program Renewed

 Decatur residents and small businesses saved more than $2 million in electric energy costs between February 2013 and February 2014 as part of the community’s Electric Aggregation program.

 Voters in November 2012 passed a referendum allowing the City to arrange for the supply of electricity for residential and small business customers in conjunction with other communities following action by the Decatur City Council to place the referendum on the ballot. With aggregation, cities are allowed to “bundle” all eligible participating electric accounts and bid as a group on the open market to get better pricing from suppliers, with bids from large groups of customers leading to better pricing than households or small businesses could secure from power suppliers individually. 
The electric aggregation program was recently extended through June 2016 at a fixed rate of  $0.0458 per kWh to become effective on the June or July Ameren bill. As part of the renewal, residents and small businesses will receive an OPT-Out notice in the mail starting next week to be utilized if they choose to be removed from the program.
Residents do not need to do anything and will be automatically enrolled if they want to continue to participate in the program. There is NO CONTRACT to sign and NO ENROLLMENT FEE. With Decatur’s aggregation program, residents are not required to sign a contract at all, and will not be called or visited by a salesperson. 
There is no penalty for not enrolling.  
Residents who participate in the program will see minimal changes to their power bills with one exception – a lower price.  Customers continue to receive one monthly bill from Ameren Illinois and are still eligible for the same programs that they currently participate in, including Budget Billing, payment agreements and energy efficiency programs. Ameren will continue to bill LIHEAP customers and residents and PIPP energy assistance program participants will continue to receive assistance with energy bills from the state. 
Market prices have increased in the past several months, but the aggregation program is protected from this market volatility and the price is guaranteed for 2 years. Electric marketing program offers received via mail or promoted by salespeople via telephone or in person are not part of the Decatur community aggregation program. 
New residential electric customers with questions or persons uncertain if they are enrolled in the community aggregation program can contact supplier Homefield Energy at:

 

Homefield Energy

www.homefieldenergy.com

866-694-1262

HomefieldCustCare@Dynegy.com

Detectives Seize Drugs, Firearms And Cash

David Dickerson, Deputy Chief of Criminal Investigations with the Decatur Police Department, reports that on April 8, 2014, at approximately 1329 hours, Street Crimes Detectives and members of the Emergency Response Team executed a search warrant at 1355 East Sedgwick.

During the execution of the warrant, Street Crimes Detective’s located Cannabis, 3 firearms and currency. One of the firearms was discovered to have been previously reported as stolen. Arrested during this investigation was Brian L. Austin DOB 10/30/77.

Austin was incarcerated in the Macon County Jail for:

-Possession of Cannabis over 5000 grams

-Manufacture / Delivery of Cannabis over 5000 grams

-Possession of a Stolen Firearm

-Possession of a Firearm by a Felon

The Decatur Police Department encourages anyone with information regarding illicit narcotics trafficking, or any other felony crime, to contact Crime Stoppers at 423-TIPS or the Decatur Police Department at 424-2711. Sworn statements and booking photos concerning the arrest of Brian Austin can be requested at 424-1341 (Macon County Jail). 

City Council Approves Water Main Work

The Decatur City Council continued its commitment to improving local infrastructure tonight, approving an agreement to repair and replace water mains on the city’s south side.

The agreement with Entler Excavating is for work at Medial Drive and U.S. route 51 and along South Side Drive at Ward Branch and is part of the city’s annual Water Main Replacement Project.  Work at Medial drive will involve the boring of a new main under Route 51 to create a second connection to the neighborhood west of U.S. 51, a second phase of work that follows the replacement of a section of water main in 2013. The project along South Side Drive replace a segment of water main extending from Ward Branch west to Farm & Fleet.

The City’s Annual Water Main Replacement project targets water main segments throughout the City experiencing a high rate of main breaks or that require extensive repairs. The Water Management Department tracks each repair made and uses the compiled data to determine which water mains need to be replaced and then the list is prioritized to meet the available funding.

Both mains have experienced breaks in recent years. The  segment of water main has had several breaks over the years, including a break in 2010 that destroyed a large section of South Side Drive. The agreement with Entler Excavating is for $294,060.88.

The list of additional infrastructure projects that have either been completed recently or are ongoing includes but is not limited to:

LAKE SHORE DRIVE “CRITICAL” SEWER REHABILITATION ($8.7 million)- This rehabilitation project began recently to rehabilitate a sewer line that is upwards of 96 inches in diameter and serves a significant portion of the City of Decatur. A breakage in the line of this magnitude would be catastrophic to the community as the line currently serves one of two major hospitals in the area. The project is funded by a low interest loan from the IEPA. The loan will be repaid with the sewer use fees charged to our water and sewer system customers.

ENERGY PERFORMANCE CONTRACT WITH JOHNSON CONTROLS – Agreement to provide energy and water efficiency services to the city. As part of the project, more than 22,000 new water meters will be installed throughout the community with some retrofitted with Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI). Other work will entail, among other items, mechanical and lighting improvements to city facilities including fire stations, the South Water Treatment Plant and the Municipal Services Center.

PHASE 1 LAKE DECATUR DAM REPAIRS ($3.4 million) – This $3.4 million investment was critical to protecting our ability to control lake levels and protect the Lake Decatur/Sangamon River shoreline. The project rehabilitated mechanical systems, replaced seals and cylinders and repaired the upstream face of the dam. This was funded by water use fees paid by our water customers. Work was completed in early 2012. 

PHASE 2 LAKE DECATUR DAM REPAIRS ($4.1 million) – This ongoing project includes repairs to the dam face and scour holes and removal of the old down-stream dam constructed in the late 1800’s. This project began in September 2013 and is expected to be completed in early 2015. Completion dates will vary due to weather a precipitation conditions. This work is funded by water use fees paid by our water customers.

DREDGING – Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. has been hired to dredge all four basins of Lake Decatur and to rehabilitate the Oakley Sediment Basin to store silt as it is removed. The work will span 5-6 years and increase lake capacity by 30%.


In other business council members heard an update on progress to determine why portions of the fish screen installed to keep the invasive Asian Carp out of Lake Decatur broke away recently. Members also received an update on House Bill 5485 which would allow fire department minimum manning requirements to be decided by an arbitrator in contract negotiations.

The City has vehemently opposed the legislation, in part, on grounds that it limits the City’s ability to manage its own budgets and takes away duties entrusted to elected officials by the public to govern based upon the needs of the community.


Macon County Issued Final Property
Assessment Equalization Factor


Macon County has been issued a final property assessment equalization factor of 1.0000, according to Brian Hamer, Director of the Illinois Department of Revenue.
The property assessment equalization factor, often called the "multiplier", is the method used to achieve uniform property assessments among counties, as required by law.  This equalization is particularly important because some of the state's 6,600 local taxing districts overlap into two or more counties (e.g. school districts, junior college districts, fire protection districts).  
If there were no equalization among counties, substantial inequities among taxpayers with comparable properties would result.
Under a law passed in 1975, property in Illinois should be assessed at one-third (1/3) of its market value.  Farm property is assessed differently, with farm homesites and dwellings subject to regular assessing and equalization procedures, but with farmland assessed at one-third of its agriculture economic value.  
Farmland is not subject to the state equalization factor.
Assessments in Macon County are at 33.10 percent of market value, based on sales of properties in 2010, 2011, and 2012.
The equalization factor currently being assigned is for 2013 taxes, payable in 2014.  
Last year's equalization factor for the county was 1.0000.
The final assessment equalization factor was issued after a public hearing on the tentative factor.  The tentative factor issued in February 2014 was 1.0000.
The equalization factor is determined annually for each county by comparing the price of individual properties sold over the past three years to the assessed value placed on those properties by the county supervisor of assessments/county assessor.
If this three-year average level of assessment is one-third of the market value, the equalization factor will be one (1).  If the average level of assessment is greater than one-third of market value, the equalization factor will be less than one (1).  And if the average level of assessment is less than one-third of market value, the equalization factor will be greater than one (1).
A change in the equalization factor does not mean total property tax bills will increase or decrease.  
Tax bills are determined by local taxing bodies when they request money each year to provide services to local citizens.  If the amount requested by local taxing districts is not greater than the amount received in the previous year, then total property taxes will not increase even if assessments increase.
The assessed value of an individual property determines what portion of the tax burden a specific taxpayer will assume.  That individual's portion of tax responsibility is not changed by the multiplier.

Police Respond To Home Repair Fraud/Burglary
Complaint On West Side Of Decatur 

On March 29, Decatur Police responded to an address on the west side reference a home repair fraud/burglary.  The elderly victim was approached by three subjects, described as a white male, 60’s, a white male, 30’s-40’s and a white male child, approximately 10 years old, who arrived in a nondescript white truck with miscellaneous tools in the bed.  The suspects offered to resurface the victim’s driveway.  The victim advised them it was too cold for that type of work, and the suspects then said they could repair the cracks at the end of the driveway for a very small amount of money.  The victim agreed to the repair. 
The suspects talked their way into the victim’s residence, and convinced him to boil a pot of water on the stove, to which one of the suspects allegedly added an unknown substance said to be needed for the repair work.  The suspects then asked the victim to add cool water to the “mixture,” but suggested the victim remove his watch to prevent a “chemical reaction” which could damage the watch.  The victim removed his watch, and then left the room for a moment, leaving the suspects, and the watch, unattended in the kitchen.  When he returned, the suspects went out to the driveway and apparently started working on the driveway repair.  After a short time, one of the suspects approached the victim again, stating they had to leave to get supplies.  The suspects left, and never returned.  The victim then discovered his valuable watch was missing from the kitchen. 
Unfortunately, this is a common type of scam throughout the United States, referred to as a “ruse burglary.”  The perpetrators gain entry to a victim’s residence under false pretenses, and distract the victim while other members of their crew steal valuable items.  Often, these go hand in hand with home repair fraud.  The perpetrators will often use high pressure sales tactics, and in some cases push themselves into a victim’s residence. 
To avoid becoming a victim of this type of crime, the Decatur Police Department recommends the following: 

*Never let a stranger into your home.  When answering the door to an unexpected stranger, leave the door closed and locked and speak to them through the door, making use of peep holes or windows near the door.

*Do not rely solely on ID cards to verify a person’s legitimacy.  Anyone with basic computer skills can easily make a photo ID card which appears legitimate.

 *You do not have to let anyone into your home.  If you have any doubts at all, do not let them in and call police immediately.

 *When hiring out for home repairs, use only people that you either know or have confirmed through references.  Utilize the Better Business Bureau to learn more. 

 *Always lock windows and doors, including when going out to do yard work.

 *In some cases, perpetrators of these scams will portray themselves as City Inspectors or will state that there is an emergency, e.g. gas leak, which requires evacuation.  If that were actually the case, the notification would be made by uniformed Police Officers or Firefighters, or via telephone using the Code Red system.  Furthermore, real City workers would never have a problem with you calling their department to confirm their identity and reason for being there.  If you have doubts, call the police.

 *If it sounds too good to be true, IT IS!


Decatur Fire Hydrants 
To Be Flushed

  

Decatur Fire Department crews, in cooperation with the Decatur Water Department, will be flushing and flow testing 1200 fire hydrants throughout the city from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday during the month of April. 
The flushing and flow-testing program is necessary to keep the city’s nearly 4500 fire hydrants ready for service.  Crews will be checking for deficiencies and recording flows during the process to obtain tactical information for fire suppression.   
Some minor and temporary discoloration of water may occur in areas where hydrants are being tested.  There are no water safety or health issues related to the discolored water but residents will want to be sure the water is clear when doing laundry as clothing could be stained. 
Residents should not bleach or dry stained clothing, as this will set the stain permanently. Stains may be removed by rewashing the wet clothing with a rust-removing compound.
The Decatur Fire and Water Departments appreciate the public’s cooperation during this process. Contact the Decatur Fire Department at 217-424-2811 for more information.




Lisa Taylor

Lisa Taylor Is New District 61 Superintendent
 
   

The Decatur Public Schools Board of Education voted Tuesday evening  to approve the contract of Lisa Taylor as the new superintendent of Decatur Public Schools. Taylor will be replacing retiring superintendent Gloria J. Davis and will immediately begin her duties as superintendent.

Taylor has extensive educational experience working on behalf of Decatur Public Schools for the past 12 years as a teacher, building level administrator and central office administrator. Since 2010 she has held the position of assistant superintendent and deputy superintendent where she has represented the Board of Education as the chair of collective bargaining and co-chaired the Dennis Lab School task force. She also held the position of director of research and information where she spearheaded all district level data collection, analysis and reporting.
“I am very excited to lead Decatur Public Schools into the future. I think we have great students, teachers and staff and I am truly humbled to be given this opportunity,” Taylor said.
Board President Brian Hodges says that Taylor emerged from a very thorough search process as the right candidate to lead the District. “I feel very fortunate to have Mrs. Taylor leading Decatur Public Schools and feel confident in her abilities. She knows our successes and our challenges. Her history with the district will allows her to hit the ground running,” says Hodges.
President Hodges explained that the extensive community input, including the focus groups, individual interviews and online survey was the key to a successful superintendent search process. “The input from the community was the driver that created the leadership profile report. That document outlined exactly what the community wanted to see in the next Decatur Public Schools superintendent and that is what the search firm used to find our candidates,” stated Hodges. Search firm Hazard, Young & Attea (HYA) formally evaluated 45 applicants to see if they could meet the expected characteristic’s that had been outlined by the community. From those 45 candidates, six candidates were interviewed. The candidates represented Illinois, Ohio, Maryland and Tennessee. They consisted of two females, four males, three African-Americans and three Caucasians. After the initial interviews were completed, the Board selected two candidates as finalists. On Sunday, February 16, 2014 the Board of Education identified their preferred candidate and started the lengthy completion process including the implementation of necessary paperwork, contract negotiations, timeline development, health evaluation and contract signing.
Taylor currently serves on the Decatur Family YMCA board of directors and is a member of the Decatur/Macon County Education Coalition. She also serves on the Education Committee for Grow Decatur. She is a member of the American Association of School Administrators and the Illinois Principals Association.
Taylor is married to Rich Taylor, and together they have three children. 

Decatur Public Schools Superintendent Search Process

PROCESS DEVELOPED

In August 2013 the Board began the process of researching, interviewing and hiring the executive search firm Hazard, Young and Attea (HYA), as the District’s Superintendent search firm. HYA is one of the top search firms in the United States. They have national members that help recruit and evaluate possible candidates for superintendent positions across the country. Bill Attea, the firms Vice President, was the lead administrator for the Decatur Public Schools search team and was responsible for all segments of the search firm’s work.

The Board met with HYA on September 16, 2013 and began the planning process. During this meeting HYA outlined two different processes that Decatur Public Schools could use for the superintendent search. They included:

  1. 1)  HYA and the Board of Education creating a profile, HYA soliciting applicants, identifying acceptable candidates, narrowing the pool down to three or four candidates and the Board interviewing and sending the top two or three to open forums within the community for input.

  2. 2)  HYA would hold multiple forums within the community and creating a profile of the next Decatur Public Schools superintendent for the Board of Education’s approval. Upon the profile being approved, HYA would identify acceptable candidates and arrange interviews for those candidates with the Board of Education.

Upon the recommendation of HYA, the Board of Education chose option #2 to allow for the maximum amount of community input while still providing a confidential interview process for candidates.

COMMUNTIY INPUT – PROFILE DEVELOPMENT

On October 1st and 2nd, 2013, HYA held numerous focus groups and individual interviews with community members, businesses, district staff, parents and students. Over 250 community members attended the focus groups and provided HYA with recommendations and desires for the new superintendent. The goal was to create a profile of Decatur’s next Superintendent. The focus groups represented individuals from city government and law enforcement, religious leaders, local media, social service agencies, after school providers, education partners, service clubs and realtors. Individual groups were also asked to participate including the Chamber of Commerce, Caring Black Men, Grow Decatur, Black Chamber of Commerce, NAACP, Decatur Celebration and the Economic Development Corporation. In addition to the many focus groups that were conducted there was also an online survey that allowed the community to participate and provide input in the profile that was being created.

Once the focus groups, individual interviews and the online surveys were compiled, HYA presented the Leadership Profile Report to the Board of Education. This report outlined the desired characteristics and profile of the next Decatur Public Schools Superintendent. HYA began recruiting applicants through their extensive network.

INTERVIEW PROCESS

HYA formally evaluated 45 applicants to see if they could meet the expected characteristic’s that had been outlined by the community. From those 45 candidates, HYA began a formal interview process of 15 candidates and presented the most qualified to the Board. The Board conducted formal initial interviews with six candidates. The candidates

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represented Illinois, Ohio, Maryland and Tennessee. They consisted of two females, four males, three African- Americans and three Caucasians. After the initial interviews were completed, the Board selected two candidates as finalists. The final interview consisted of specific follow-up questions from the candidate’s initial interview. On Sunday, February 16, 2014 the Board of Education identified their preferred candidate and started the lengthy completion process including the implementation of necessary paperwork, contract negotiations, timeline development, health evaluation and contract signing.

CONTRACT APPROVAL

On March 25, 2014 the contract for the new superintendent will be voted on in open session. 





Decatur Police Chief Todd Walker Discusses Some
Of The Reasons For Drop In Crime Rate In City


By Paul Osborne, Editor

Decatur is becoming a very unfriendly place for those who want to commit crimes.
Overall, crime is down in the city of Decatur.  
Violent crime has dropped 18% in just the past two years and that’s something that hasn’t been seen in a long time.
Crimes against persons were down 14% and property crimes are also down.
During the last two years the Decatur Police Department has set  records in the seizure of drugs.
Usually, the DPD seizes about a million dollars worth of drugs in a year.
During 2012, it seized $4.1 million and, during 2013, it seized $3.5 million.
What’s been the reason for the drop in crime, especially in one of the most economically-depressed cities in the state?
I sat down for a one-on-one interview with Decatur Police Chief Todd Walker at the Law Enforcement Center for an indepth discussion about the changes in his department that have resulted in some amazing results.
Walker, who was appointed chief in 2011, has been with the Decatur Police Department for 28 years and worked his way up through the ranks to the top position.
“When I took over as chief I made a public statement on day one that we were going to go after those who prey on people and victimize neighborhoods,” said Walker.  “I sat down with my command staff and, early on, my line officers as well, and I wanted to take a different approach in this department.  I didn’t want to focus on one aspect.  I wanted for us to deliver a good product for this community and enhance every aspect of this agency from patrol operations and investigations.
“If crime was coming to Decatur, or passing through Decatur or being committed in Decatur, we were going to go after it.”
Walker added that, in terms of “community policing” he wanted to get the officers out of their cars.  He said that was something that he experienced when he was a young police officer, and he believes it is valuable, not only to the officers but the community.
“So, we got them out of the cars and they did more than 500 hours of foot patrol during the past year,” said Walker.  “We compliment that with the bike officers where we did more than 2,000 hours during the past year.
“There not just in the neighborhoods.  They are also in the downtown area, especially during the holiday season.  I want people to feel safe when they come downtown.


• Brought Back ‘Rat Packs’


Walker said that “rat packs” were brought back which are basically pro-active enforcement efforts where they go after known offenders in neighborhoods or go into the neighborhoods where known offenders are causing problems.
The approach has contributed to a sizeable reduction in violent crime, crimes against persons and property crime.
“We are partnering with state and federal officers in working to reduce crime,” said Walker.  “It gives us more officers to fight crime and we’ve developed a strong partnership in working together.
“They work with us, which means I have more officers, to focus on those trouble points throughout the year.
“It’s paying big dividends.  Then, if there isn’t anything going on, they get out of the car and go talk to people and let them know that we are out there.”


• ‘Cautious Optimism’


Walker said he thought the mayor, city council and city manager may have been a little skeptical, or “cautiously optimistic” when that approach was started, “but we are seeing results through seizing large amounts of drugs, arresting people wanted for armed robbery and burglary.  
“I am not a big fan of social media, but I do take exception when people start commenting that Decatur is just like a war zone.
“Yes, we have violence and crime as in any city, but in the last two years our crime rate and incidents of crime are less than Champaign, Springfield and Bloomington.
“Those are good communities, but I believe that we are just as effective, and even more so, in dealing with crime in our city.”
Walker said that another aspect of the successful action is that “I made a pledge that either myself or one of my officers would be at every neighborhood meeting.  We have been to all the meetings as well as National Night Out and other activities that involve making the community a better place to live.
“We have taken that a step further and have been in attendance (on our own time) to many other community events, like United Way, etc.
“We are a part of this community and I believe in supporting it.”


• Does Prison Reform Offenders?


Sometimes, it seems that about everybody arrested has served time for previous offenses.
Offenders seem to come out of prison without being “reformed” and quickly go back to their old ways.
Walker said: “You know, in our line of work, we don’t buy into the reform aspect of those who go to prison.  I believe there are some individuals who go to the penitentiary and reform and don’t go out and commit crime again.  I really believe that is true.
“But we deal with a lot of repeat offenders.  It is not uncommon for us to deal with someone a third, fourth, fifth or sixth time as they come back into community.
“I don’t know what the answer is to that problem.  We don’t control the prosecution.
“It’s no secret that a lot of offenders are getting out of state prisons earlier because they cost money and there’s a lack of funds in the prison system.  The problem is that I don’t think those people are ready to come out.
“It is easy for them, especially in the economy that we are in, to go back to their old ways.  It makes it tough on us and it’s a little aggravating.
“We spend a lot of money and resources to deal with these individuals and they show up again and again.
“I believe in the second chance but I’m dealing with 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th chances. I’m dealing with some offenders who are the children of parents that I dealt with earlier in my police career.
“Part of that is, they grow up in an environment where that’s all they knew.”


• Changed Approach In Battle Against Narcotics


Chief Walker also said his department has changed its approach to fighting narcotics in the city.
“Where it once involved making street arrests, it is now a three-prong approach to the drug trade.
“We still have the street corner arrests and we don’t want to ignore their importance.
“But we also look at the long term investigations, and by that, we’ve had several arrests where the drugs have come out of Mexico, into Texas, piped up through the southern states and into Decatur.  We’ve had several that have come from Detroit into Decatur, Chicago into Decatur, or from the Indianapolis pipeline.
“We’ve really gone after that, in addition to the street corner arrests and the third aspect of our approach is what we call the “interdiction effort” and we’ve done a lot of that in the past year.
“It basically involves commercial vehicles, such as a Greyhound bus.  We partner with them.  I send guys to a national school and they have learned so much in that training that they are really good and so successful that they have been nationally recognized.
“Now, they are even becoming instructors at the national level.
“There are certain things they look for in passengers on the Greyhound bus.  We also deal with cars in hotels and motels and not necessarily those with out of state license plates, but what you can see from the outside on that car.
“If it is littered with air fresheners or they put bumper stickers all over the back window...most of the time that’s camouflage because they don’t want you to see what’s inside the car.
“You can also tell if some body work has been done on the car to create a hidden compartment to hide narcotics.”
Walker said his officers have done a great job in that area and that’s the reason the department has set records in the seizure of drugs the past two years.
He also said that he believes the illegal drugs have always been out there but his department is getting better at finding them.


• Uncovering The Pipeline


Chief Walker also said that, at times, they will follow suspected people all the way to or from Texas to uncover the pipeline and there are a lot fewer drugs and drug pushers that are around Decatur because of that approach.
“They keep their drugs in one house, their money in another house and they live in a third house,” he said.  “You really have to tie that in to be successful.”
“In those long-term investigations we have partnered with the DEA because that gives us the resources and the out of state connections.”

• Contract Killer Intercepted


Walker said that “We also arrested a guy off of the bus, who was a contract killer, and we believe he was on his way to carry out a contract in Atlanta.
“One of the first things I did was to take one of my detectives and assign him to the U. S. Marshal’s task force.  He was a good detective, but he is also very good at finding people.  Since he was assigned to that job, he has been involved in over 500 fugitive arrests in just three years.
“I feel we have so many branches out and they are all coming together and having a big positive impact in the community.”


• Crime Being Successfully Fought Despite Police Department’s Budget Cut


What is amazing about the Decatur Police Department’s successful attack on crime, is that Walker and his department have been able to accomplish it even though cuts to his budget total about 13%.
“We have less officers,” he said.  “I am still without a third deputy chief and with that position open, more of the burden of that job falls on the other two deputy chiefs and myself.”
Walker credits those working in his department with hard work and a willingness to accept some responsibilities they would not have to do if he had the number of officers that he needs.
“I understand the city’s financial problems, I really do,” said Walker.  “We’ve been fortunate that we haven’t had as big of a hit as other departments.  On the other hand, I can’t sustain as big of a hit as the other departments and still provide the services that the public expects.
“I still think we are doing an outstanding job.  Our detectives have a mid-90% clearance rate on major cases, and in  general cases they have an upper 80% clearance rate.  That’s well above the national average.
“Our patrol officers are doing an amazing job.
“We used to get complaints that officers were not responding to calls soon enough. We don’t get those compliants anymore.  There’s been a strict mandate given to the dispatch center that you don’t hold calls.
“We’ve re-allocated those calls and moved them up in the ‘food chain’ so that we can go sooner.”


• Advantages Of New Police Headquarters


Another amazing aspect of the success of the Decatur Police Department is that they’ve been housed in space at the Law Enforcement Center that became too small almost from the day they moved in many years ago.
The new police location on Southside Drive, to which they will be moving this spring, will make all of the difference in the world.
Walker said that, presently, at the old location, “We have the ability to process evidence but we have a very small area to do that.  We can only process one piece of evidence at a time.  The new facility will have a much larger lab and we can process several pieces of evidence at the same time.
“We’ve been hindered over the years of having a lack of interview rooms.  It’s not uncommon, if we have a shooting or a murder overnight, that you will have a dozen or so people that  you need to interview, but when you only have four interview rooms, you have six or eight other people sitting out there and they are getting their stories lined out.  We are going to a facility that has 10 interview rooms with an additional 4 that can be available.
“In the new facility, there will be a bank of 15 computers where officers can write reports they can’t write in their cars because of the end of their shift and the cars need to be used by those working the next shift.
“We will have over 10,000 square feet dedicated to evidence at the new location.  We only have 14,000 square feet of space in our present building for everything.  There will be 47,000 square feet for the department as a whole.”
Walker said the department will have many options to interact more with the public at the new location.
“The officers are excited and I’m excited, too.  I would love to spend my career working in that building.
“I have really started to think seriously about when its time for my police career to come to an end so I may not have the opportunity to work for very long in the new facility.”
What makes Walker’s job as Chief of Police since 2011 even more amazing is that, while his department has achieved a high level of success in fighting crime in overcrowded and somewhat inefficient conditions, he has also had to coordinate the moving to the new facility.
Coordinating that move is a job on its own.
Many are hopeful that he will have some time to spend at the new facility before his retirement.
He has worked for ten years to see the new location come to pass.

* * * *

Reprinted from March 19th print edition of the Decatur Tribune.
 
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The above photo shows part of the Farmers' Market on North Water Street across from Central Park.

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