November 12, 2012 07:23 AM
Mayor’s ‘Homeland Security’ Raises Questions
Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch ordered his town’s police force to keep watch over his home – but why?
By Robert Herguth/BGA and Casey Toner/SouthtownStar
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Residents of most communities have to kick and scream to get more police patrols in their neighborhoods.
But if you’re Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch, apparently all you have to do is ask.
The SouthtownStar and Better Government Association have learned that Welch requested and received beefed-up patrols by his home – to the extent that officers may be spinning by his single-story frame house a whopping 48 times a day.
The patrols are the subject of an Aug. 31 police directive signed by a Country Club Hills lieutenant and obtained by the BGA. The document states: "Per the Mayor, as directed by the Deputy Chief of Police, patrol officers shall conduct premise checks of the Mayor’s residence every half hour until further notice."
The order, which appears to still be in effect, also says: "All shifts will conduct the checks 24 hours a day. The check must be completed by a police officer."
A SouthtownStar reporter visited the mayor’s block on the afternoon of Oct. 17 and, after about 20 minutes, spotted a marked squad car trolling by. A city public works truck drove by 10 minutes later.
The reason for the enhanced patrols isn’t totally clear.
A combative Welch, a former Country Club Hills cop who has been mayor of the south suburb for more than 20 years, indicated the added police presence was needed to guard against arsons in his neighborhood in recent months.
"I don’t have to tell you anything about the security of my neighborhood," Welch said. "We’ve got six arson cases within a block of my house – six. . . . We’re trying to catch the guys."
However, a city official who asked not to be named said the added patrols were more about protecting Welch, who’s fielded at least one alleged threat in recent months.
The official pointed to an incident in which an alderman verbally tangled with Welch at a city council meeting.
According to minutes of that meeting, this is what transpired: "Mayor Welch requested that comments be positive and constructive and the rules of decorum and the time limits be observed. He was interrupted by comments made by Alderman [Leon] Williams. A heated discussion ensued [and] Mayor Welch stated that Alderman Williams’ behavior resembled that of a ‘bully.’ Alderman Williams stated that if he really was a bully, he would have his hands around the Mayor’s neck."
However, this incident occurred Sept. 10, nearly two weeks after the police directive was dated. What’s more, a fellow alderman, Vincent Lockett, said Williams was not being threatening, he was just making a point, an assertion echoed by Williams in an interview.
Lockett, a vocal critic of Welch, said the extra police presence equates to a perk the rest of the community is not afforded.
Country Club Hills Police Chief Mark Scott said "there’s a lot of stuff going on between the aldermen and the mayor, I’m not going to get into that – I’m here to run a police department, . . . and run it professionally."
He would not divulge the reasons behind the added security at Welch’s home, but said police routinely conduct "drive bys" past private homes at the request of out-of-town residents. What’s more, "I put memos out all the time, ‘extra security at Walmart,’ ‘at the high school’ . . . I don’t see why this is so important or different than anything else."
Lt. Will Garrison, who authored the directive, said while there indeed have been arsons in town, he does not know the reason for the added patrols. "I don’t have a lot of background information," Garrison said. "I was just told to put out the directive."
Even if the patrols are in response to arsons, it’s unclear why the fires aren’t mentioned and Welch’s home is singled out in the directive.
Welch said "there’s nothing being done wrong here," adding that reporters were getting sucked into "political games" and "being used."
While mayors of larger cities such as Chicago have regular police protection, it’s unusual for smaller communities. Country Club Hills has more than 16,000 residents, about three-dozen sworn police officers and a fair amount of crime. (There were 64 violent crime incidents reported there in 2011, according to FBI statistics.)
Williams said "everything is so hush-hush . . . no one seems to know why he’s getting this extra security on his own home."
"At one time he tried to make a police report that I tried to threaten him," Williams said. "But that wasn’t a threat. He tried to use that as an excuse of why he had security, but something else is going on. I don’t know what it could be."
Pressed for more details by a reporter during a telephone interview, Welch said "have a nice day" and hung up.
Welch has been mired in controversy over the past couple of years, in part for using, along with the now-former city manager, taxpayer-funded credit cards to spend roughly $80,000 on food and drinks in 2010.
This story was written and reported by Robert Herguth of the Better Government Association and Casey Toner of the SouthtownStar. To reach them, call (312) 821-9030 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.