Council: Neighborhood police team coming back
By Bob Okon email@example.com August 21, 2012 10:30PM
Updated: September 23, 2012 6:26AM
JOLIET — Residents packed a Joliet City Council meeting to urge them to bring back the neighborhood police team. Council members said they would.
It was the firmest commitment yet that the city would bring back the Neighborhood Oriented Police Team that was broken up last week as police were redeployed to patrols amid a manpower shortage.
And it was a commitment made to about 75 citizens who sent a message that neighborhood police must come back to their neighborhoods.
“I urge you to understand there is something more important than police chasing criminals,” said Raymond Bolden, a retired Will County judge. “The NOPT makes police human beings rather than something on a TV screen or a story heard in a poolroom.”
Residents said neighborhood police help reduce crime because of their close contact with the community.
Marianna Perez talked about her family being attacked by gang members “who don’t even live in my neighborhood.”
“You all live in nice neighborhoods. You don’t have to deal with the riffraff like we do,” Perez said to the council. “Having this officer in our neighborhood makes us feel safer, and it gets these bullies out of our neighborhood.”
City officials said NOPT is likely to return in early 2013. The number of police to be hired will be determined in the city budget that will be developed by December.
The Joliet neighborhood police team was created in 1991 amid a rash of violent gang crime in Joliet.
Amy Sanchez, who survived a bullet wound to her head in 1989 when she was 9 years old and lost a 10-year-old friend, Danny Reyes, when he was caught in a gang crossfire nine months later, urged city officials not to get lost in budget numbers.
“This is a realistic issue when there are murders in our neighborhoods,” Sanchez said. “When our kids are afraid to get off the bus stop to go home, that’s a realistic issue.”
All council members said they want to bring neighborhood police back.
“We know we’ve been short of police for some time now,” said Councilman Terry Morris. “It has been a budget issue. That is something we want to address. ... This is not something that we’ve swept under the rug or that we have not cared about.”
The council earlier this summer approved a change in hiring practices so experienced police could be hired from other departments and be put on the street sooner.
“Applications started going out yesterday, and we’ve had 75 applications already,” Police Chief Michael Trafton said.
Trafton, like council members, expressed appreciation to residents at the meeting for their show of support for the police department.
“When the community cares about the police department, we have to make sure we do the same,” Trafton said. “And we will.”