From Self-Defense Classes to Positive Tickets, Foundation Boosts Police-Citizen Relations
By David A. F. Sweet Every year at Dickinson Hall in Lake Forest, police officers and senior citizens gather to enjoy a picnic and play bingo. For many in attendance, it’s the only time all year they’ll speak to those tasked with protecting Lake Forest. “They get to know us, we get to know them, and we build that trust bank,” explained Lake Forest Police Department Deputy Chief Rob Copeland.
Police Officer Michael Hughes enjoys a moment with Chase, who was brought on board by the Lake Forest Police Foundation to search for drugs and people. What is the impetus for this friendly get together? It satisfies one of the goals of the Lake Forest Police Foundation, which looks to run programs that enhance community relations, among other objectives. Formed in 2014 primarily by Copeland and Kasey Morgan, a Records Clerk at the time, the foundation helps support the department with financial contributions for discretionary projects that fall outside the police budget. In the foundation’s first year, thanks to the generosity of 18 founding donors and several local businesses, police trauma kits were purchased and training initiated so officers could render aid during a terrorist attack or natural disaster. The police department – which was formed in 1894 with one officer who rode around town on a bicycle – has grown tremendously and the foundation has enabled the department to expand its community policing and enforcement capacity.
In June 2019, the foundation helped the department to restart its K-9 program by raising funds to pay for a specialized canine squad vehicle and equipment. Aside from being one of the "friendliest” officers on the force, Chase – the department’s canine – has been a valuable asset to the department in helping to locate missing persons and suspects who have fled crime scenes. “Chase searches for drugs and people,” Copeland said. “He can track burglars through the woods and find evidence along the way. He’s also a great asset for surrounding communities who may not be able to afford a dog.” A Citizen’s Police Academy has been popular for years and nearly always sells out. The 10-week program includes classes about firearms, investigations and evidence – all taught by Lake Forest officers. “Then when citizens hear things on the news, they’re better educated than the average person,” Copeland explained. Alderman Jed Morris enjoyed what he learned at the academy. “The most impressive aspect of the course was understanding the extensive range of knowledge that our officers need to do their jobs, from legal codes to crime patterns,” he said. “Participants also develop an enjoyable rapport with our officers.” One of the first programs the foundation supported was a women’s self-defense class. Police officers outfitted a storage room with defensive devices at their headquarters off of Deerpath Road. A few years ago, Sam Borland signed up with her daughter, Sarah, who was then attending Lake Forest High School. “We still talk about the class, and she tells me she has told her friends what to do,” Sam Borland said. “When Sarah left for college, I knew she would be OK because we took that class.”
The foundation is also determined to improve policemen’s relations with the city’s youth. One example is the Bike Rodeo, where kids navigate their way through bicycle skill stations, and Kiddles Sports’ employees ensure their seats are at the correct height and their tires are properly inflated. Another is Positive Tickets, where kids are rewarded with a coupon for an ice cream cone or other treat for riding their bike with their helmet on, following proper safety rules, helping a neighbor, or for even running a lemonade stand. “It gets the officers out of their cars to talk with kids in a positive manner,” Copeland explained. The deputy chief learned how to run a police foundation by attending an out-of-state event on the topic. He discovered most large municipalities outside of Illinois, such as New York City and Philadelphia, have police foundations while few cities in Illinois do. The Lake Forest Police Foundation raises money principally by mailing out a letter around Thanksgiving , which raises between $40,000-$45,000. The goodwill generated is worth the cost of the foundation’s efforts. Noted Sam Borland, “Our police do lots more than our citizens realize, and now when I see any of them, I say, ‘Thank you for your service.’”
Originally published in the City of Lake Forest’s Dialogue Newsletter. Read The Dialogue online.