A Steady Rain

Playwright Keith Huff's A Steady Rain is simply among the best police dramas you will ever see on a stage. The current production in Chicago of the noir good cop/bad cop play, is a reprise of the 2007 production with the orginal actors Randy Steinmeyer and Peter De Faria. The universal resonance of the themes of the personal cost of police work, the color grey of crime, and the bad ending of the scapegoating of a crime, has led to productions in the U.S. and all over the world. The show continues to find an audience with upcoming productions scheduled for Brazil, Prague, Venezuela, Tokyo, Columbia, Madrid and London.

The importance of plays like A Steady Rain or stories in any form with universal themes, is that the stories help us to figure things out, which is just what officials and residents of the western Chicago suburb of Winfield, Ilinois are currently trying to do. "We face difficult times in our country; we need to figure it out," said Winfield resident Chris Jonsson at a recent Winfield town meeting packed with residents who came to hear the REM Consulting report on the potential savings if the village disbanded its police department.

One path to figuring it out is to make the connection between a crime scapegoated in Keith Huff's fictional police drama and the initiative to disband the Winfield police department for cost savings and outsource the police function to the local sheriff (even though both the consultant and local Winfield residents agree, Winfield currently has a great police department). In a sense the proposal scapegoats the police department because it is not clear that Winfield's fiscal problems are caused by the police department, but never-the-less, the police department is the only village department currently considered for outsourcing.

The initiative to outsource Winfield police came after years of municipal revenue constraint including a failed referendum that would have provided financing for repair of Winfield streets. Now looming are possible deep budget cuts from the Ryan budget to federal funds for education, roads and bridges and law enforcement. The selection of Congressman Paul Ryan to be the Republican nominee for vice president serves to make those concerns immediate.

The impact of the Ryan budget cuts on Congressman Ryan's home town of Janesville, Wisconsin and on Winfield could be markedly unequal. After the closure of its GM plant, Janesville has leveraged its excellent highway system that connects with other midwest cities to re-invent itself as a distribution center. In contrast, Winfield streets show years of deferred maintenance partly due to decisions to prioritize the village's police and fire department because of the presence of a large hospital in Winfield.

At the Winfield town meeting, DuPage County Board member Dirk Enger cautioned that the number one priority of a consultant is to provide facts accurately and that the actual cost comparison cannot be stated until the village issues a request for a proposal and the sheriff responds. Enger stated that the county board must approve any contract between the sheriff and Winfield and that the county board never received a copy of the consultant report. Enger disputed the consultant's statement that the sheriff and Winfield would share red light camera fines. "I cannot imagine the county sharing revenue with the village," Enger said. "I don't think you can justify the figures you put on the board. You don't have the facts," Enger told the consultants.

Also calling for additional facts is life-long Winfield resident, Michelle Rosen who says that there needs to be a disclosure of the number of police calls made last year to the Cadence Hospital (formerly Central DuPage) and the cost of those calls. She and other Winfield residents ask why the non-profit hospital does not shoulder the municipal costs of police time at the hospital.

Observers outside of Winfield ask what will be the impact on property values and future development if Winfield outsources its police function to the local sheriff? No other community in Illinois has done so, making it dfficult to gauge the impact on property values. In addition, a recent Illinois Appeals Court decision affirmed the contractual rights of union police officers. The consultant report made no mention of the cost of police buyouts or where the money would come from.

Still another issue, one that does not lend itself to a quantified cost/benefit analysis, is the issue of the politicalization of DuPage County law enforcement. Scandals at the DuPage Housing Authority, DuPage Water Commission and DuPage County Election Commission have forced the resignations of their entire boards. Yet to date, there has not been a single indictment. Now a scandal at the DuPage County Forest Preserve has emerged regarding the steering of no bid contracts to insiders.

Activists who have seen what has happened at other DuPage agencies no longer file criminal complaints with law enforcement. Instead they make public statesments at Forest Preserve meetings and post the statements on YouTube.

After Winfield trustees and residents get their arms around these issues and around an agreed set of numbers from the potential savings from outsourcing, any contract with the sheriff would require the approval of the full DuPage County Board, a decision the consultant described as permanent because the cost of rebuilding a police department from scratch would be prohibitive.

Taking a few steps back suggests a simple interim test model solution for Winfield: contract with the DuPage County sheriff for police calls to Cadence Hospital. Send the bill to the hospital AND work with legislators to find some legislative relief from large non-profits who make enormous use of municipal infrastructure and services, but do not pay for those services.

In the mean time, Winfield police are out there 24/7 and A Steady Rain runs through September 2nd.

A Steady Rain
by Keth Huff
at Chicago Dramatists
1105 W. Chicago Ave
(312) 633-0630

Directed by Russ Tutterow
A Production of Chicago Dramatists and the Chicago Commercial Collective