The Salem Lakes Village Board on Wednesday suspended the operation of its Public Safety Department until further discussion about the future role of the department can be held.
The motion to suspend was made by Trustee Mike Culat and was seconded by Trustee Dan Campion. The suspension passed with a 6 to 1 vote, with village President Diann Tesar being the lone dissenting vote.
In introducing his motion, Culat said he felt the Public Safety Department overlaps services provided to the village by the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department.
“I do not see the need to have two police departments,” Culat said. “I have not talked to a single person in five years who appreciates our Public Safety Department … I think it’s redundant.”
Village administrator Patrick Casey and President Tesar argued against the suspension. Instead they favored a discussion of the department’s role without the suspension. That would ensure the department was in place for the beginning of water patrol season at Memorial Day. Water patrol on the village’s many lakes has been conducted by Public Safety.
“I welcome whatever you want to do, whatever you want to discuss but I think it’s premature to suspend,” Casey said.
Said Tesar: “I don’t think we should suspend anything until we talk.”
Tesar also argued that enforcement of village ordinances on issues such as junk in people’s yards might suffer if left in the hands of the sheriff’s department because deputies will have more important matters to deal with.
“They (deputies) are not going to come out for someone’s junk in the yard,” Tesar said.
But Trustee Ted Kmiec argued that such ordinance or code enforcement could be effectively done by civilians, not sworn officers with firearms like the public safety officers.
Salem’s Public Safety Department was the subject of some controversy among Town Board members last year when board members learned that the department had been accepted to a grant program to increase traffic enforcement. That program required a certain number of contacts per shift covered by the grant. Consequently, officers were doing more traffic enforcement, especially along Highway 50, than in the past. Officer Michael Ventura died in a crash on July 8 on Highway 50 while driving a Public Safety Department vehicle. The town withdrew from the grant program in August.
In November, with the merger of Silver Lake and Salem in process, the Silver Lake Village Board created a Public Safety Department from the old Salem department, though with some apprehension from trustees about the scope of powers.
Culat and Kmiec said they were confident there was time to resolve the role of Public Safety and water patrol before the need for enforcement on lakes was needed.