BELLEVILLE, Ill. — A judge on Friday placed the financially troubled city of East St. Louis on one year of probation for potentially endangering its police officers by not repairing their squad car radios.
The city was convicted on Jan. 4 of reckless conduct. That was the city's second reckless conduct conviction in three months and only the third such conviction known against a city in Illinois in more than 75 years, St. Clair County State's Atty. John Baricevic said.
"The city has made a minor effort to improve the situation," Baricevic said. "I do not know that everybody has a radio. I do know that many police officers have bought their own radios."
The city had also been charged with reckless conduct for allowing police cars to fall into disrepair, but it was not found guilty on that charge. Baricevic originally filed the charges against the city in February, 1988.
Because a city cannot be given a jail term, it faced a maximum fine of $1,000 on the reckless conduct charge. Baricevic recommended a token $1 fine because of the city's huge debt, estimated at $40 million.
Instead, St. Clair County Associate Judge Robert P. LeChien placed the city on probation for one year. He said the city should be checked regularly to ensure that it is keeping its radios and patrol cars in good condition. The city was also assessed court and probation costs.
LeChien said the evidence showed that there is "pervasive potential for danger to police officers due to faulty equipment."
"I find, in aggravation, that the city has not met the obligation of protecting its citizens," LeChien said.
The city has 30 days to appeal, he said. The city's attorney, Irvin Williamson, said that an appeal was being considered.
"The judge went as far as he could," Baricevic said after the hearing. "The city deserves to go to jail, but that is physically . . . impossible."
Sgt. Joseph McCaskill, vice president of the city's police union, refused to comment on the sentence until it could be discussed with other union officers.
Some new patrol cars have been bought, but the city still fails to keep gasoline in them or have the tires repaired, Baricevic noted. "But the mayor (Carl Officer) still gets tip-top dollar for operation for his car."
East St. Louis was convicted in October of reckless conduct for a sewer system failure that flooded a high school with raw sewage. In that case, Associate Judge C. Glenn Stevens waived the fine because of the city's debt.
The last known case in which a city was found guilty on a similar charge was in 1912, when Chicago was convicted of reckless conduct for improper operation of a municipal hospital.