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Pandemic-related supply chain issues have arrested production of police vehicles

Police departments have used “WANTED” posters for generations. The posters were designed to inform the public about criminals on the lam. They featured a picture of the alleged offender, the suspect’s age, as well as the crime committed.

The posters local police departments — as well as those throughout the United States — are likely to distribute now would have the image of a Ford Explorer, perhaps a Chevy Tahoe.

What police departments are having trouble capturing today are police vehicles, for which there is a nationwide shortage.

The shortage can be traced back to 2020, when pandemic restrictions and closures caused vehicle manufacturers to order fewer microchips, hundreds of which are used in a single vehicle. In the meantime, demand for consumer electronics increased, and chip manufacturers responded by switching production, according to industry reports.

How many vehicle orders have gone unfilled is not known, but there is no question the number would be in the thousands.

The Kankakee Police Department placed an order for seven Explorers a year ago. To date, they have received one, said Police Chief Robin Passwater. In mid May, he will put in another order for four more.

When those could arrive is anyone’s guess.

“Never in the past have we faced an issue like this,” Passwater said. “In the past, we were able to tell them what we needed and, in a few months, you got them. It was a normal transaction.”

If anything has been learned within the past couple years, it may be there is no such thing as “normal” any longer.

So why order a vehicle that may not arrive?

Simple, Passwater said.

“You have to get on the list. If you’re not on the list, your department will never get them,” he said.

Most police vehicles reach an end of a productive life at 85,000 to 100,000 miles. While many citizens would rightfully note they use their vehicles well beyond that mileage barrier, Passwater says a squad car is rarely shut off and it can be used for as much as 20 hours a day.

The wear and tear adds up quickly as a squad car is basically a rolling office. The vehicle support several computerized functions related to the officer’s work.

Bradley Police Chief Don Barber said his department was able to gain three new Chevy Tahoes last year out of Iowa. He will soon be putting in his May order for six more, but at the pace of fulfilled orders, he is not anticipating seeing those vehicles until October or November at the earliest.

Even then, he noted, by the time the vehicle is outfitted with the special equipment needed, it would likely not be ready for service until year’s end.

Bradley has a six-vehicle, three-shift patrol force operating 365 days a year.

“If vehicles get too old, they can nickel-and-dime you to death. We would like to have our new vehicles on the street by June, but I don’t think that will be happening,” he said.

Like Passwater, Barber would have never imagined equipping his department with new vehicles as being an issue.

The region’s largest department in terms of vehicles, the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Department, was given the OK to purchase 11 Chevy Tahoes in August 2021 at a cost of $411,000.

Sheriff Mike Downey said the department attempts to get 11 of the vehicles yearly so they are not spending money on repairs of units past their prime.

“We’re looking to do that again. We just don’t know when they’re going to be available,” the sheriff said.

The new vehicle range cost about $33,000 to $34,000. By the time they are upgraded with police equipment, the cost is closer to $40,000.

“I think the prices are going to continue to go up,” he noted.

No matter a department’s size, the issue is the same.

In Manteno, Chief Alan Swinford said he has three vehicles on order. He has no idea on a timeframe for the vehicles’ arrival, most likely late 2022. The village has eight marked squad vehicles.

“We’re not holding our breath,” he said, nothing that the wait time only increases from year to year.

“Just getting them would be a victory,” he noted.

The Bourbonnais Village Board gave Chief Jim Phelps the green light to purchase five vehicles this year.

He said the pandemic caused more than just people getting ill. It has caused police departments to stretch additional years out of vehicles even though they had reached their retirement age.

“Gone are the days when there used to be an abundance of police cars on the [sales] lot and you handed them the check and drove it off the lot,” he said. “That hasn’t happened in a few years.”

Journal reporters Jeff Bonty and Chris Breach contributed to this story.

What is the impact of the Depp/Heard trial on survivors of domestic violence?

From Hollywood and beyond, many have been engrossed in the ongoing trial of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.

A libel lawsuit has Depp accusing Heard of defamation as a result of Heard’s 2018 newspaper op-ed claiming she endured sexual and physical assault during their two-year marriage.

Following Heard’s initial claims, the 36-year-old “Aquaman” actor was embraced as a “survivor” of domestic violence. In her Washington Post op-ed, she refers to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”

Depp, 58, took the stand April 19 and media outlets have been covering every moment of the trial. On April 20, a voice recording played for the court where Heard admits to having hit Depp — further fueling his claims that he was, in fact, the spouse who had suffered abuse.

With something as complicated and “he-said, she-said” regarding domestic violence, it begs the question: how does this trial impact survivors of physical and sexual abuse?

Jenny Schoenwetter, executive director of Harbor House — which specializes in helping survivors of domestic violence — and Tracey Noe-Slach and Kristin Giacchino, executive director and community engagement specialist, respectively, for Clove Alliance — which specializes in helping survivors of sexual violence — shared their thoughts on the subject.

Schoenwetter said that, with any high-profile situation of violence, survivors tend to have “peaked sensitivity” and watch how others react.

“A lot of people are probably being triggered because they identify with stories as they see them play out,” she said.

On the flip side, she said that instances like this — and non-celebrity situations such as Gabby Petito’s murder — can make some realize that they, too, are victims of domestic violence.

“Maybe they identify with what they’re seeing [and think] ‘Oh, I never realized that wasn’t normal,’” she said.

In situations where survivors are being triggered, Schoenwetter said it’s not as simple as getting off social media, because “that’s punishing the victim.” However, Noe-Slach cautions to not read the comments.

“One way or another, they’re usually not supportive of the survivor,” she said of social media comments.

Noe-Slach said that it’s common in these situations for people to begin “victim blaming.” Schoenwetter agreed with this, saying that the Depp/Heard case using the term “mutual abuse” is a form of victim blaming.

“Violence is learned and a chosen behavior and is reinforced in society and is a tactic to gain power,” said Schoenwetter.

“If mutual abuse is a reality, there’s two people trying to gain power. That isn’t possible; there’s a victim and an aggressor. Someone may be acting out of self-defense and someone might be shifting the blame to them.”

Helping the survivor

When it comes to helping a survivor navigate something as triggering as a high-profile case on the subject of domestic violence, Schoenwetter, Noe-Slach and Giacchino all agree that it’s important to “empower” the survivor.

Giacchino said that, when they begin working with a client, they lay out all of the options available and empower them to make their own choice.

“It’s easy on the outside to say ‘You need to get out’ and we recognize that leaving is the most dangerous time [for a victim],” she said. “The approach I’d recommend for loved ones is to lay out the options and empower them.”

One of the biggest things for the public to keep in mind, Schoenwetter said, is that this is not something that only exists outside of the community.

“With the high-level headlines, we think that this is something that happens somewhere else,” she said, adding that the local community has its own problem with domestic violence. “It’s not ‘those people’ that have the problem. It’s us.”

All of the providers encouraged that, if someone is experiencing these encounters of violence, hotlines and resources are available in the area at any time.

New law increases sheriff’s salary

The salary for the Kankakee County sheriff will substantially increase later this year due to a state law that was passed by the legislature on April 19. The new law was revealed during Wednesday’s County Board Finance Committee meeting at the county administration building.

The state law says that the salary for the sheriff of a non-home rule county shall not be less than 80% of the salary set for the state’s attorney. In doing so, the state will furnish about 66% of the total salary to be paid to a sheriff.

Currently, Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey’s salary is $105,055. The current salary for Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe is $183,434. Based on those numbers, the new salary for the sheriff will increase to $146,747, of which the state will reimburse $97,832. The county will be responsible for the remaining $48,915.

That will be a reduction in salary expense to the county general fund of $56,139.

However, the new state’s attorney salary is set on July 1 of each year, so those exact numbers will change slightly. There are a couple quirks in setting the future salary.

“The statute is effective immediately,” said Anita Speckman, Kankakee county administrator. “Yet the [Illinois] Constitution says that any increase or decrease in the salary of an elected official shall not take place during the term of that elected official.”

Speckman has been advised by the state’s attorney’s office to make the new salary effective Dec. 1, 2022. In addition, the salary for sheriff has to be set by June 4, but the county doesn’t know what that’s going to be until sometime in mid-July, Speckman said.

“And if we don’t do it right and use the right amount, we will lose our reimbursement,” she said. “So that’s a problem.”

Speckman added the county will now have to word the motion to set the sheriff salary at 80 percent of the state’s attorney salary as indicated by the annual Department of Revenue salary reimbursement notice.

The motion was passed by the Finance Committee and will be voted on by the county board at its next meeting on May 9.

“Historically, the sheriff’s salary is set for the [four-year] term at a fixed amount,” she said. “Moving forward, it will change every year.”

The salaries for the county clerk and county treasurer for 2022 are both set at $71,594. In addition, they each receive a stipend of $6,500, so the total compensation is $78,094. The stipends are determined and mandated by the state.

The base salaries will each increase by 3 percent every year through 2025.