Skokie, Illinois: Community Policing through Shopping and Hugs

The COPS Office is pleased to feature the March 2016 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest—the Skokie Police Department. Their depiction of community policing features Sergeant Scott Anderson hugging a young girl after accompanying her during a Cops with Kids shopping event in December, 2014.

The Skokie Police Department serves a population of approximately 66,000 residents in a city that covers just 10 square miles. The community, sometimes referred to as “The World’s Largest Village,” borders Chicago and Evanston and offers a suburban feel in an urban setting. The area features two major shopping centers, rapid transit, and a major expressway that brings many people to and from Skokie on a daily basis. Despite the area’s offerings and high traffic, its crime issues are minimal. “Even though we border Chicago and you hear about major crimes there, the likelihood here is very slim. There were no homicides in Skokie last year,” said Chief Anthony Scarpelli, who has served as the department’s leader since 2011.

The low incidences of crime can be attributed to many factors, including community policing. Skokie officers invest quite a bit of their time in community engagement through numerous initiatives like Cops with Kids, Neighborhood Watch, Business Watch, Know Your Officer, National Night Out,Officer Friendly Program, area bike patrols, and saturation patrols, to name a few. These initiatives ensure that officers and community members can have non-enforcement-related interactions on a regular basis.

Cops with Kids is a particularly special program for Chief Scarpelli. In collaboration with the local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge, Skokie officers are partnered with 100 area youth for a shopping extravaganza at Walmart. The youth are told that they can purchase whatever they want up to the maximum amount on their gift cards provided by a fundraiser sponsored by the FOP. The youth are selected by the local schools based on need. “Police departments don’t have a great gauge on who is deserving or needy,” said Chief Scarpelli. “We felt the best experts are the schools. They have great insight on which families are in need.”

“This is one of the most heartwarming experiences of my career. Kids are asking if they can buy light bulbs and canned goods and housewares and clothing. One kid asked to buy a scarf and gloves for his grandfather.” Chief Scarpelli went on to describe his personal experience with Cops with Kids. “One girl that my wife and I walked around with wanted a doll. We knew she wanted this particular doll and when we walked down the aisle we found it, but it cost $35.00. The doll right next to it cost $17.00. After looking at both, she put the least expensive doll in the cart to save money for other things for her family. My wife and I promised her that we would pay whatever the difference was so that she could get the doll that she wanted. It just tears at your heartstrings.”

Another initiative that Skokie officers find as important as Cops with Kids is a gift-giving opportunity. After being approached by a local charity to distribute toys, games, and stuffed animals, officers began surprising kids—and parents—with gifts during routine traffic stops and visits to schools. So far, officers have distributed over 300 of the toys, games, and stuffed animals donated through this effort. Sergeant John Moersfelder emphasized the importance of police presence on bicycles. He stated that patrolling parks and areas with high incidences of crime on a bicycle is a helpful strategy since officers on bicycles can move much more quietly, reach areas inaccessible by patrol cars, and offer a more personal approach to policing than officers in vehicles.

In addition to cycling through neighborhoods, the Know Your Officer program is a direct effort to familiarize community members with their neighborhood officers. Beat officers go door-to-door to introduce themselves and provide information on ways to reduce crimes of opportunity. This also provides the department a great way to collect resident contact information to continue the distribution of information through other channels such as email and social media.

Both Chief Scarpelli and Sergeant Moersfelder have extensive experience in law enforcement with Skokie. The Chief has been with the Department for almost 34 years and Sergeant Moersfelder has served the city for 14 years. Their passion and commitment to maintaining a safe community for Skokie residents is evident, not only by the community engagement work of the Department, but also by the low incidences of crime.

The COPS Office congratulates the Skokie Police Department for being one of the 12 winners of the COPS Office 2016 Community Policing in Action Photo Contest and for its commitment to community policing.

Written with contributions from Skokie Police Chief Anthony Scarpelli and Sergeant John Moersfelder. Photo courtesy of the Skokie Police Department.

Najla Haywood
Special Contributor
The COPS Office

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