Lewis gets some help
By Tina Akouris firstname.lastname@example.org June 19, 2013 6:54PM
Lewis University Police Chief Jim Montanari in his office at the student union. | Tina Akouris~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 22, 2013 3:56PM
The village of Romeoville is making it easier for Lewis University to forge ahead with plans on expanding its campus police department.
The Romeoville Board of Trustees approved a mutual-aid partnership between the village’s police department and Lewis’ campus police force earlier this month.
The measure allows both entities to help each other in criminal cases or first-responder type situations. The agreement also allows Lewis’ police department to enforce Romeoville village ordinances.
“We can hold a person accountable without getting (Will) county involved,” Lewis police chief Jim Montanari said. “We also may be called to assist the Romeoville police and they may be called to assist us.”
Based on the state’s Private College Campus Police Act, the boards of trustees at private colleges and universities in Illinois can create their own campus police departments. Public schools usually have these departments already in place.
“This statue allows private schools to create a police department,” Montanari said. “That’s the only provision in state law that allows a private entity to create a police department. Even park district police are (part of the government).”
Lewis has had police officers on campus for almost two years. The university hired Montanari in 2011 after he retired from the Naperville Police Department. Montanari spent 30 years at Naperville and retired with the rank of commander.
Then Lewis hired one of its own — alum Mike Zegadlo — as deputy chief of police.
Even with the mutual-aid agreement in place, university officials have a laundry list of improvements that need to be done for the department.
One of the improvements on Lewis’ list is streamlining 911 calls.
If a student at Lewis calls 911 from a land line, the call goes to the Romeoville dispatch center. But if a student calls 911 from a cell phone, the call may go to Romeoville or another dispatch center depending on which cell tower picks up the call.
There are emergency call boxes throughout the campus that students can use and there is a campus emergency number students can call, too.
“Romeoville police and Lockport Township fire will be dispatched right away (after a 911 call),” Montanari said. “We’ll get a follow-up call from dispatch, because we’re not on the same radio network, and then we can head right over there. It’s not 100 percent yet, but we’re trying to make the process more formal.”
Lewis also does not have a jail on campus. And that’s one thing where Romeoville can help out.
“We can also help with (major crime) investigations, no questions asked,” said Romeoville police chief Mark Turvey. “If they arrest someone for a DUI, we will provide a breathalyzer test for them and go to court if needed. And if they have a combative person they can call us.”
Joseph Falese, Lewis’ senior vice president for student services, said one of the first things the university wants to do sooner rather than later is install more video surveillance cameras on campus, especially in parking lots.
“We also want to add at least one more (community service) officer for this coming school year,” Falese said.
The department is housed in the basement of the Lewis student union. But Montanari is hoping that as the university expands and renovates its buildings, the department will find a new home elsewhere.
Falese said that when the university had a security team two years ago, the university budget for that department was $540,000. But in the latest budget, the university is allocating $900,000 for the police department.
So far the department has at least four squad cars and 10 officers — eight full-time and two part-time. Falese said officers are also encouraged to do bike and foot patrols.
“It’s a way of community-oriented policing,” Falese said.
Turvey said that when Lewis used a security team, his officers would go to campus at least twice a week to assist with random issues. Now, Lewis officers can do those random tasks on their own.
“With them having their own police department, it gives them a lot more flexibility and there’s more that they can do in investigating their own cases,” Turvey said.
Lewis isn’t the only area college with its own police department.
Other area colleges with their own campus police include St. Xavier and Benedictine. Those schools, like Lewis, are private.
And, on a larger scale of private universities, Northwestern has its own campus police department, too.
But the University of St. Francis in Joliet does not have its own police department, and instead relies on campus security officers.
Nancy Pohlman, USF’s executive director of university relations and advancements, said the school also has a close relationship and meets regularly with the Joliet Police Department.
In the public domain, Joliet Junior College has its own police force and also works with the Joliet Police Department in certain situations.