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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
One of the most popular participants in the 2019 Chicago Pride Parade was a police car—not an ordinary squad car, but one wrapped in the rainbow colors of the Pride movement, driven by an officer of the Elgin (Illinois) Police Department (EPD) and towing an ice cream cart.
“It was a wonderful experience,” says EPD Lieutenant Travis Hooker, who gave out popsicles from the back of the ice cream cart. “Everybody was cheering us, including the LGBTQ community, who made it clear they were glad we were in the parade.”
In addition to hundreds of other participants, including members of the Chicago Police Department and the FBI, there were 10 EPD officers in the parade, all wearing Pride t-shirts with the Elgin Police Department’s “Elgin Pride” logo on them.
“I was especially happy that my department was celebrating, given the history of the LGBTQ community’s interactions with law enforcement,” he said, referring to the police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a New York City gay bar, in 1969.
That event, which galvanized the LGBTQ community to demonstrate not only against abusive police tactics, but to fight discrimination in employment and other areas of life, was the catalyst for the Gay Pride movement.
Through research, Lieutenant Hooker, who is EPD’s Liaison to the LGBTQ community, discovered that despite being frequent targets for violent crime, many members of this community don’t report it. They often believe that police won’t help them or treat them with respect. And because of poor relations over the years, some even fear police.
Like others in his department, Hooker believes that the EPD’s participation in the Pride parade sends the message that everybody, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, will be treated fairly.
“If our job is to represent everybody in our community, we have to be out there showing that we do serve everybody,” says Hooker.
Asked about any negative reactions to the department’s participation, he says there is pushback from some people, who ask why a government agency is getting involved in events or issues related to sexual orientation.
In response, he says “We’re here to serve everyone and protect any community that is victimized. And based on a 2021 Gallup Poll, in which more than five percent of the American population self-identified as LGBTQ, a significant number of people in Elgin are likely to be members of the LGBTQ family.
Plus, there are many decisions related to gender identity and sexuality,” he continued, “such as how to book and house people in a fair way. Also, how do you deal with individuals who identify as non-binary? And what if the person you stop for a traffic violation doesn’t look like the gender indicated on his or her drivers’ license?”
Elgin Police Chief Ana Lalley also addressed negative comments about participation in the parade, saying “This is something we feel is important. If you are a victim of a crime or need something, we are here to assist you. If I have to take some heat because we're supporting people, I'll take it.”
As for relationships with the overall community, Hooker says they are excellent because the EPD is very community oriented.
The EPD, a medium sized agency which serves approximately 111,000 residents in this small city 35 miles northwest of Chicago, has long practiced community policing, a law enforcement approach that departmental leadership believes has had a tremendous impact on public safety. According to their website, crime was at a 40-year low in 2022.
Among the EPD’s community policing efforts is the Resident Officer Program of Elgin (ROPE), in which the city has purchased houses in high crime areas for officers to live in, often with their families as well.
By becoming part of the neighborhood, they establish personal relationships, learn firsthand what the residents’ concerns are, and work with them to solve problems. According to Hooker, though ROPE started in 1989 as a crime-prevention program, as crime decreased in those areas, it became a quality-of-life program.
The Neighborhood Officer Program of Elgin (NOPE), in which officers are assigned to areas which generate a high number of calls, was added a few years later.
“We’re there to help residents problem solve, to improve the quality of life in their community. We conduct walk-and-talks and directed patrols, attend community events, and knock on doors to ask if there is anything we can help with. We might share with people that they can call 311 to get their broken streetlight fixed, for instance. And our agency’s relationships have grown a lot from these personal engagements.”
Both of these programs were started by former chief and IACP president Chuck Gruber. At that time, the EDP had a community relations division, but Chief Gruber decided that instead of assigning some officers to a separate division, everybody in the department had to be in community relations because community relations is everybody’s job.
“So, building partnerships to promote safety and enhance the quality of life is an agency-wide goal,” says Hooker, “and we’ve made great strides with this approach.”
Clear and ongoing communication is essential to this approach, and according to Hooker, the EPD meets with anybody who wants to have a conversation, even if it’s a difficult topic.
“We frequently meet with citizens individually and as groups to explain why we do what we do and understand their needs. The department is active in the Community Task Force on Policing, which was set up by the city council after a use of force incident so that we can meet directly with our critics and have a real dialogue.”
Chief Lalley attends in-person and the meetings are posted on YouTube for anybody to see. She also hosts a weekly call-in radio show called Fridays with the Fuzz.
The department also reaches out to religious and cultural groups, including members of Elgin’s Sikh and Buddhist communities. In addition to establishing positive relationships with these and other communities, the EPD provides guidance for interacting with residents who are deaf or on the autism spectrum.
“We do a lot of community initiatives, so people in Elgin are comfortable with us,” says Hooker. “And the decorated cars are part of the effort to encourage that. When they see us driving a vehicle that addresses a cause they identify with, they can feel assured that we understand their concerns and support them.”
Pride is just one of the themes that periodically wrap two of the department’s cars, which rotate messages related to domestic violence, autism, breast cancer, and suicide prevention, among other concerns.
EPD also has two permanently wrapped cars: one promoting police recruitment and the other expressing appreciation of veterans. When not in use, they are on display in front of the department. Independent sponsors pay for the wraps, and EBY Graphics, a nearby business, donates labor to heat-seal them onto the cars.
Shortly after Hooker returned to Elgin from driving the Pride car in another parade, an officer told him about two women who just got married at a hall across from the station and were posing for photos outside. Hooker asked if they would like him to take some with the Pride car in the background, and they accepted excitedly.
It was just one more instance of community outreach, and one that delighted Hooker as much as the newlyweds.
Photos Courtesy of the Elgin (Illinois) Police Department.
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