By DIANE TURNER-HURNS
Journal & Topics Reporter
Rosemont is a small village. The town is home to only 4,206 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But the size of its population is misleading when it comes to the manpower needed to run the village -- and keep its citizens safe.
The town may have only 1,782 housing units, but it is home to an 840,000-square-foot convention center, a 4,400-seat theater, the multi-purpose Allstate Arena, the massive Fashion Outlets of Chicago mall, a sports dome, softball stadium and the restaurant and entertainment destination known as MB Financial Park. All those venues bring in outside workers and visitors who can boost the village’s population to as much as 75,000 to 100,000 on the busiest days and each location is policed by the Rosemont Public Safety Department. “It’s not just policing the streets and the beat in a geographic area, it’s those buildings,” says Donald Stephens III, chief of public safety.
Handling the variable transient population requires flexibility from police and fire personnel. The village created that flexibility in 1975, when it combined its police and fire divisions into one public safety department after studying a town with a similar setup in California. Police officers and firefighters became public safety officers and had to be cross trained for both roles. That training was eventually expanded to include EMS.
Today, the department’s 430 employees include 80 sworn public safety officers, each of which might transition between jobs throughout the day. If there’s a large fire in an office building, officers on police duty might be called over to staff the firehouse or respond to the scene with an additional engine. On the flip side, a critical police situation could cause firefighters to switch to walking patrol beats or provide support at the scene. “We like to give some notice before we pull people just as a courtesy, but that doesn’t always work,” Stephens says.
During the busiest weekends, the public safety department further supplements its numbers through the use of auxiliary officers. The deputy chiefs and commanders determine the department’s staffing needs daily, sometimes looking out months in advance for major events such as New Year’s Eve.
The movement between roles means that public safety officers earn a wider perspective of their village than most police and firefighters in other communities. The large transient population coming into town everyday can make it a challenge to build relationships with the public, so the department prioritizes community connections. Many officers walk their beats, stopping and talking to shop owners at the Fashion Outlets or watching families play on the artificial lawn at MB Park. By interacting directly with the community, Rosemont’s officers are able to encourage crime prevention tips.
Walking a beat also creates a visible police presence that discourages criminal activity. When MB Park opened in 2012 the area went through a period where there was an uptick in fights at restaurants and other criminal activity late at night. The violence subsided as officers increased their presence in the area and formed relationships with the local business owners, who learned to quickly notify police whenever an issue arose. “We have 20 police back there that can handle everything from a fight in progress to locked keys in a car,” Stephens says of the department’s current presence in the entertainment district.
The public safety chief credits his officers’ involvement in the village’s major venues with Rosemont’s relatively low crime statistics. Through Nov. 8, the department recorded five reports of criminal sexual assault, three robberies, 10 aggravated assaults/batteries, nine burglaries, 244 thefts, six thefts from a motor vehicle, three violations of the cannabis control act, seven violations of controlled substances, four hypodermic syringes, seven incidents for drug paraphernalia and three cases of methamphetamines. No reports of homicide, arson of human trafficking have been reported in 2016. Stephens says those numbers compare favorably to other communities like Schaumburg that have major entertainment and shopping venues.
The Rosemont Public Safety Department is truly a modern police, firefighting and EMS force. The village has had an active K-9 unit since 1977 and often lends its dogs and handlers out to neighboring towns. Additionally, 20 officers make up the department’s SWAT team, preparing for emergencies through inter-agency training like the active shooter drill held at the Fashion Outlets, Ballpark and Cook Country Forest Preserve last month.
With the backing of village government and the community, the department will continue to be a model for the rest of the Northwest suburbs. In 2015, President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing released its final recommendations for creating a modern police department. Those objectives include: building trust and legitimacy, policy and oversight, technology and social media, community police and crime reduction, training and education, and officer wellness and safety. Stephens was proud to find Rosemont Public Safety was already making progress in all of those areas.
“Technology is our next step,” he adds. The department began testing police body cameras earlier this year and is building a real-time crime center that will tap into security cameras at the convention center, MB Park, The Ballpark, Allstate Arena, Rosemont Theater, local parks and Rosemont School. Once completed, the crime center will be staffed with officers 24/7 and will be able to use video and data to seamlessly push intelligence out to officers in the field. “We can pretty much monitor anything out of that room in Rosemont in real time,” Stephens says.