The Oak Park Police Department has withdrawn from participation in the West Suburban Directed Gang Enforcement organization, known as WEDGE. The multijurisdictional group, which began formal operations in April, has reported numerous successes in Riverside, North Riverside, Berwyn, Cicero, Forest Park and Lyons.
Police Chief Rick Tanksley said on June 8 the decision was based on manpower constraints he’s currently facing, not any lack of commitment to working with adjacent communities.
“Even though I agree with the concept in theory, I can’t afford to have our officers participating on a regular basis,” said Tanksley. “It all boils down to staffing. We’re currently five officers short of full force.”
Oak Park’s cops, Tanksley and other officials have said, have their hands full dealing with drug activity on the village’s long Austin Boulevard and North Avenue borders with Chicago and along Roosevelt Road with Berwyn.
“We will continue to do that [as needed], but on a formal basis, it doesn’t work for us,” he said.
The arrangement offers several benefits to smaller police forces beyond providing additional manpower. Oak Park, like Cicero and Berwyn, have officers well trained in street-crime tactics and gang interdiction. It also helps to have officers available whose faces are unknown to local gang members and drug dealers.
Tanksley pointed out that the training many Oak Park tactical cops and detectives have undergone is available through other agencies, in particular the Chicago Police Department.
Riverside Police Chief Eugene Karczewski said that while Oak Park’s decision to leave WEDGE was regrettable he didn’t feel their exit would have a dramatic impact on operations.
“I’m a little disappointed, but it’s not going to have a big effect on us,” Karczewski said.
Karczewski added that at the next meeting of WEDGE community officials, the group may explore recruiting another community, such as Brookfield, to fill the void left by Oak Park.
Brookfield Police Chief Thomas Schoenfeld said that while he’s aware of the benefits of the WEDGE program, his department is not in a position to join such a program at this time.
“We have so many extra programs going right now, I just don’t have the extra bodies to send out to another program,” said Schoenfeld, adding that his department is still operating at below 100 percent due to several retirement sin the past year.
“As soon as we’re up to 100 percent, then we can look into it further. There’s no sense in looking into it now, because we don’t have the bodies.”
Bob Uphues contributed to this report.