The police chiefs from Brookfield, Riverside and North Riverside talked about a wide-ranging group of issues, from crime trends to local enforcement strategies at a meeting of the Riverside Township Republican Organization last Thursday night at the North Riverside Library.

The meeting was moderated by Illinois State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, a Riverside resident and former state GOP chairperson. Each chief gave an overview of policing philosophy in his village and took questions from the dozen or so Riverside Township GOP members present at the meeting.

With respect to crime in North Riverside, Police Chief Anthony Garvey said that some 90 percent of all offenses committed in the village relate to theft, principally at North Riverside Park Mall.

“The high theft rate is due to the mall and the other retail shopping areas in the village,” Garvey said.

In order to keep a lid on retail theft, Garvey said his department meets regularly with the mall’s management and security staff to map strategies for theft prevention and prosecution. North Riverside police also patrol the mall on foot on weekends and during the holiday season to deter retail theft.

“We also work with the Cook County State’s Attorney to prosecute these cases to the fullest extent of the law,” said Garvey, a 16-year veteran of the force who was promoted to chief earlier this year.

Garvey said that a close relationship with mall security and management could perhaps help deter theft in the same way that the department was able to foil a car theft ring that targeted the mall’s parking lot over a decade ago.

“When I started [16 years ago] there was an average of one car per day stolen out of the mall,” Garvey said. “Last year, we had something like 36 in the whole village.”

Outside of the mall, Garvey said that he’d like to implement two programs that will focus on the village’s seniors, including an Elderly Service Officer Program and a Senior Disabled Well-Being Check Program.

Garvey said that some of the most frustrating and perhaps preventable crimes are scams perpetrated on seniors. Sometimes the scams result in the loss of a few hundred dollars, but sometimes seniors are defrauded of thousands by criminals who see seniors as an easy mark.

A Senior Disabled Well-Being Check Program could function as a kind of reverse 911 program, according to Garvey, giving officers the ability to regularly make sure disabled seniors are safe.

Brookfield Police Chief Thomas Schoenfeld, a 21-year veteran of the Brookfield Police Department who has been chief since October 2004, said that he’s trying to bring a philosophy of “customer service” to the department.

“Every officer ought to be a community service officer,” Schoenfeld said. “The bottom line is I want to treat residents … the way I like to be treated.”

A cornerstone of that philosophy, Schoenfeld said, was to make the department proactive rather than reactive when it comes to fighting crime.

An example of where that approach has helped limit trouble is in the village’s two large parks, Kiwanis and Jaycee/Ehlert. Schoenfeld has asked his officers to patrol those parks and linger in them to discourage gangs using them as gathering places. The result has been less overt gang activity in the village, Schoenfeld said.

“We’ve targeted any area where there’s an ability for them to congregate in large numbers,” Schoenfeld said. “Once we did that, it immediately moved on.”

Schoenfeld has also emphasized the use of bike patrols as a crime deterrent.

“They have the ability to go where patrol cars can’t,” he said. “Bike patrols used to be scheduled for holidays and special events. Now they’re out there to make arrests. It’s not just for show.”

One area that remains a problem in the village are drug-related crimes, which Schoenfeld described as “maintaining a steady level, but at a high level.”

All three chiefs noted that cracking down on drug dealers was difficult for a single village with relatively small forces to do, given the effort and cost of those operations. In the past villages could call on the Cook County Northeast Metropolitan Enforcement Group (NMEG), but that group has since been dissolved.

“It’s a frustration to us at the local level,” Garvey said. “Those are very manpower-intensive operations, where you have to monitor areas for hours, days or weeks.”

Schoenfeld said that one area that continues to be a problem is the incidence of domestic violence.

“We’re constantly dealing with domestic issues, it’s really on the rise,” he said.

Riverside Police Chief Eugene Karczewski, who’s been that village’s chief for nearly 10 years after a 30-year career with the Chicago Police Department, said that domestic violence in Riverside has leveled off due in part to a police response policy that “mandates an arrest if there’s evidence that a battery occurred.”

“Our crime rate went up when we started that policy,” Karczewski said. “Now it’s leveled off and we have few repeat offenders once we get them into the court system.”

Karczewski also touted the department’s effort in helping enforce a new, tougher law targeting unlicensed, uninsured DUI offenders. In the wake of the death of Michael Gordon, a former Riverside police officer killed in the line of duty in Chicago by a drunk driver, Karczewski and Assistant Chief Thomas Weitzel lobbied other chiefs and state legislators to pass the law, which on Jan. 1, 2006 will result in felony charges for any unlicensed, uninsured driver cited for driving under the influence.

Karczewski also credited a strong relationship with officials at Riverside-Brookfield High School, which is located in Riverside, with limiting drug offenses there.

“We work hand in hand with the superintendent,” he said. “The drug problem there is not as bad as it used to be.”