Repo Man Visits an Illinois Police Dept.

Five of seven of the Cairo, Ill. police department cruisers were reposessed.
To say that Cairo, the seat of Alexander County, Ill., has seen better days is a cruel understatement. The county of 8,000 people is half-a-million dollars in the red, and the recession has made a bad situation worse.

Cairo's police department has just had most of its cruisers repossessed, reports CBS News National Correspondent Dean Reynolds. The recession has reduced tax revenues all over the country, forcing government agencies to cut their budgets. A survey of police departments found 66 percent of them were facing cuts this year.

"God willing, we're going to protect these people and we're gonna continue with what we got. We're used to struggling. We're used to struggling," said Sheriff David Barkett with a laugh.

The situation got so bad this month that the bank repossessed five of his seven cruisers. Four of them sit in the bank parking lot now, shorn of their emergency lights, antennas and seals. In addition to losing his cruisers, the sheriff lost three-fourths of his staff, most of them deputies,
to budget cuts. At its peak, the staff had 29 full and part timers. Now there are five.

"I'd say it's very extreme when it effects the protection of lives and property," said Barkett.

Barkett patrols in an SUV the governor loaned him. He works extra-long hours with help from volunteers and Ill. state troopers.

"Altogether it's about a 92 to 93 mile round-trip. It's a big area for just four or five people to cover," said Barkett.

Things look a little brighter today thanks to a couple of Florida counties who heard about Barkett's problems. They had older cruisers they didn't need and are shipping them to their car-needy colleague.

"I couldn't imagine that so that's why I felt it was so important to reach out and offer him what we could," said Sheriff Ken Mascara, of St. Lucie County, Fla.

Getting the cruisers is a step in the right direction for Barkett. Now all the sheriff needs is to get his deputies back to drive them.

  • Dean Reynolds
    Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.