Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Peoria Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard has called Peoria home since being hired to his position in 2005. Born to descendants of Norwegian and Italian immigrants, the Chief recognized his desire to join the police force at an early age. After 26 years with the Milwaukee Police Department and multiple promotions, Settingsgaard brings a wealth of experience and a strong work ethic to Peoria. His dedication to fixing the “broken windows” in the community is the first step to tackling the more serious crimes. By establishing a departmental philosophy of “sweating the small stuff” and listening to the public’s concerns, Settingsgaard’s goal is to set a new standard of living in Peoria. He takes media headlines and crime statistics with a grain of salt and firmly believes citizens, with the help of the police, have the power to change neighborhoods. By immediately revamping the three shifts of patrolling officers upon his arrival to the River City, he has also brought more security to the streets. Read about the Chief’s career path, his arrival to Peoria and his approaches to crime in this interview.
Describe your background, family, education and basic biographical information.
I was born on February 28, 1961, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My parents (now deceased) were both second-generation Americans. My father’s (Harland Settingsgaard) family emigrated to the U.S. from Norway; my mother’s (Lucretia Balistreri) family came here from Italy. I have two older sisters and one younger brother, all still living in the Milwaukee area. When my siblings and I were born, my parents were relatively poor, and my father worked various jobs to make ends meet. My mother did not work outside of the home except for some sporadic part-time work. We lived in various rented flats in very poor neighborhoods until my father went to work for the American Motors Corporation as an unskilled laborer in an auto plant in Milwaukee. Shortly thereafter, my mother got a job at a local grocery chain and just before I entered the sixth grade, my parents partnered with my uncle and purchased a modest duplex in a middle-class neighborhood. We moved out of the inner city, and from the perspective of my siblings and I, we were rich. In these early days I didn’t know much about what the future might hold, but I knew when I grew up I wanted to be a “cop.”
I attended public schools throughout my childhood. I was a very good student in grade school and middle school. I skipped a grade and was placed in a special program known as “S.A.” or Superior Ability. While I was capable of much more, I was only an average student in high school and a classic underachiever. My father was the disciplinarian in the house and he required a minimum of a 2.5 (C+) GPA. As long as I held a 2.5 GPA., I was not “grounded.” That is where the bar was set for me and that is exactly what I aimed for. I worked part-time jobs to buy a car, and then needed to continue to work to pay for the expense of owning a car. The necessity to work prevented me from getting involved in sports or other activities at school. School and schoolwork were not a priority and college was not even a consideration. According to my father, no one in my family had ever earned a college degree, and college was not expected or even really hoped for. I sayhad a small group of close friends and I coasted my way through high school, graduating in 1978. Marijuana use was very common among friends and classmates, and while I was not a perfect child by any means, I did manage to stay drug free. This was not because I was better than my friends or of higher moral fiber. In those days you could not be hired as a police officer if you had any prior drug use, and I had a strong enough desire to become a police officer that I was able to resist the temptation.
During my first summer after graduation, I went to work in a factory that manufactured flowerpots and vases out of paper pulp. The building consisted of massive ovens, which baked the paper pots, and the temperatures in the building were routinely over 100 degrees. It was hot, dirty work and the pay was low. My plan was to bide my time until I turned 21 years of age, the minimum age for a police officer. At that time, a high school education was all that was necessary to qualify. One afternoon when I arrived home from work, my dad showed me an ad in the newspaper indicating the Milwaukee Police Department was hiring recent high school graduates for full-time positions as police aides. This was an apprenticeship program and aides were assigned clerical duties throughout the department. I also learned that aides worked only half-days and were sent the other half-day to the local technical college, at city expense, to work toward an associate’s degree in police science. Perhaps the most alluring aspect to the position was that aides who successfully completed the program would be promoted to police officer upon their 21st birthday—without having to re-apply and compete for the position. Applying for this position turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made, as it laid the foundation that would eventually allow me to retire in Milwaukee at the age of 44 and move to Peoria.
I applied for police aide and was required to take an exam for the position. The city only hired about 15 aides per year and there were several hundred applicants. I was fortunate to finish with the second highest overall score. After a lengthy process, I was hired in the spring of 1979. That was the beginning of my nearly 26-year career with the Milwaukee Police Department.
I attended night school on and off but never really got serious about my college education until about five years ago. It was at that time, after rising far enough in the ranks, that I realized I may actually have an opportunity to be a chief of police. Clearly, I would need a college degree for this to happen. I enrolled in Concordia University and subsequently graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice management. Upon my arrival in Peoria, I entered the EMBA program at Bradley University and graduated in May. Amen!
Who or what inspired your desire to become a law enforcement officer?
I knew that I wanted to be a police officer as far back as I can recall. I think that the greatest influence was television. I watched Adam 12 when I was very young and moved on to Starsky and Hutch and Baretta as a teen. Oddly enough, after I became a police officer I lost interest in police-related TV shows. The one exception I recall is Hill Street Blues. I was a fan of that particular show.
How long did you work with the Milwaukee Police Department? Describe your work there.
I worked for the M.P.D. for almost 26 years. As I mentioned earlier, I started out in 1979 as a civilian police aide and was promoted to police officer in 1982. As a police recruit still in training, I was excited to discover that my childhood ambition of becoming a police officer was going to serve me well. I trained with 35 other recruits, and just prior to graduation, we were all assigned to three weeks of field training on the street, riding with senior officers. It just so happened that my best friend was also in my recruit class and we frequently talked before and after work. I vividly remember coming off the street one busy night and saying to him “Man, I can’t believe they are paying us to do this!” We were having so much fun, we dreaded our days off; we felt like we were going to miss out on something.
I spent about five years as an officer and worked a wide variety of assignments. I patrolled the upscale parts of the city and the toughest parts of the city. I had some exciting plainclothes assignments as well. While I was still young enough to pull it off, I was part of an anti-prostitution team in Milwaukee. It targeted prostitutes who were preying on U.S. Navy sailors who came to town on the weekends from the Great Lakes Naval Base. Several of us were outfitted in full Navy uniforms and we prowled the streets of downtown Milwaukee, arresting prostitutes as they propositioned us on the streets and in the bars. Interestingly enough, the closest I came to being shot was while working a prostitution detail. On this particular night, I was not working as a sailor but posing as a john in my own private car. I picked up a prostitute at one of their usual corners. As we were driving, I was negotiating a deal and working my way toward a pre-established location where I had backup. While driving, the prostitute noticed the butt of my revolver, which I had hidden in my car. She grabbed my gun and began to raise it up in my direction. I reached for it and got hold of it just as it was being pointed in my direction. I managed to wedge a finger behind the trigger as she began to squeeze it. She was attempting to shoot me at point-blank range with my own gun; my finger prevented the trigger from traveling far enough for the weapon to discharge. After a very short but intense struggle, I wrestled the gun away and took her into custody. I did not believe in God at that time in my life. Looking back now, I realize that He believed in me and was watching over me even then.
During my five short years as an officer I had some great partners and mentors that prepared me well for what was to lie ahead. I had the good fortune to be faced with a promotional opportunity at a very young age. Just prior to my 26th birthday, a sergeant’s exam was offered just as I had barely enough rank to qualify. While I did not expect to do very well on the test with relatively little experience, I decided to take the exam for experience’s sake. I passed the test and, despite the lowest possible seniority score, I scored high enough to be promoted to sergeant. I didn’t think that I deserved to be promoted, but I was thrilled to be so honored. I was told at the time that I was the youngest, or one of the youngest, to ever be promoted to sergeant. In my five years as a sergeant I worked in patrol, inspectional services, special operations and internal affairs.
In 1992, I was promoted to lieutenant and spent most of my five years as the 2nd shift commander of the 7th District. I was responsible for managing the busiest shift, at the busiest district station in the city. I was responsible for over 130 officers on my shift. It was here that I experienced the best and worst day of my career—on the same day. On one particular evening, one of my best young officers, Wendolyn Tanner, was shot and killed in the line of duty. He was working plainclothes and pursued a drug dealer on foot as he ran through an opening in a fence. Officer Tanner was shot in the head as he passed through the fence opening by the suspect, who had stopped to ambush him. It was clearly the worst day of my career and I pray that it will never be surpassed. A short while after the shooting, I met with my troops in station as they came off the street. We were all in a state of shock. Our shift was over but no one wanted to leave. It was clear that we wanted to be with each other. I suggested we pray together. We ended up gathering around Officer Tanner’s car in the parking lot, holding hands, and praying together out loud, through much sobbing and tears. It is often said that the police are a family. That night we were. That was my best day. Several months after his death, Wendolyn Tanner’s twin babies were born and he lives on through them.
I was promoted to captain in the fall of ’96 and spent three years as the head of the patrol support division. This was a citywide specialty unit that contained the SWAT unit, street crimes unit, motorcycle unit, horse patrol, K-9 unit and the underwater investigation unit. Three years later, I was promoted to deputy inspector and worked nights, again. I was responsible for the entire police department during the nighttime hours. My last promotion was to inspector. In this position I headed the Internal Affairs division and later served as the second in command of the criminal investigation division. On April 1, 2005, I retired with 25- plus years of service.
Describe the process which led you to move to Peoria. How were you contacted regarding the job opening? What were your initial impressions of Peoria prior to moving here?
I was looking for a Chief’s position and had applied for 12 other positions over the period of about a year before I applied in Peoria. I finished as the runner-up in two of those positions, both relatively close to Milwaukee, with the latter being Janesville, Wisconsin. A consultant by the name of Chuck Hale conducted the search for the Chief in Janesville and during that process we became familiar with one another. Several months after the Janesville process, I received an email from Mr. Hale advising me that the City of Peoria was going to be running an ad for a Chief and that I should look for it. He told me that he was sure that no one from inside the Department was being considered and they were going to hire from the outside. I knew nothing about Peoria and began to research the city. A friend of mine in Milwaukee had a good friend who consulted for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. When he learned that I was interested in Peoria, he called me and told me that I might want to reconsider. He stated that the Peoria Police Department was known for having great labor union difficulties. I decided to pursue the position anyway.
What I thought I knew about Peoria, prior to my research, was not very flattering for the city. I pictured a flat, rusty, old, blue-collar town. I pictured Gary, Indiana. When I told friends that I was applying in Peoria, they said things like “Peoria? Why would you ever want to move there?” Others tried to be nice and said at least I would be close to great shopping in Chicago. I had to correct them and let them know that Milwaukee is closer to Chicago than Peoria. Two things are generally true when it comes to Wisconsin resident’s misperceptions of Peoria and Illinois. First, all of Illinois is flat. Second, every city in Illinois is a suburb of Chicago. During my research, I began to learn that Peoria was not what I or others around me had pictured. It looked, from a distance, to be a city worth investigating. I made my first drive to Peoria in February 2005. I drove by myself and didn’t let anyone know I was coming. I just wanted to drive around the city anonymously and see if it might be a place to move my family. I really liked what I saw. I loved the wooded hills and valleys, the riverfront and the new ballpark. I loved that it had a viable Civic Center and a real “downtown.” Frequently, I will hear someone haranguing about the city investing (or wasting) money on many of the facilities that I found to be the city’s strengths. Had no one had such a vision and the courage to make their vision a reality, I wouldn’t be here today. I suspect that many other transplants to Peoria wouldn’t have moved here either if the city had remained stuck in its past without investing public money into the necessary infrastructure that makes our city competitive.
I should note that while I was a candidate for Chief in Peoria, I was asked to partake in a panel interview via teleconference. As it turned out, the day the interview was scheduled fell in the middle of a cruise that my wife and I had long ago planned and paid for. We made arrangements for the panel to call me on the phone while I was on a ship in the Caribbean. While we were packing, I told my wife that I would not get the job in Peoria. She asked why and I explained that early in a search process, employers are not trying to pick the best candidate; they are trying to eliminate lesser candidates so that they can narrow the field to a manageable number. I told her that all the other candidates would be interviewed via videoconference and I would be the only one on a telephone. I would simply be a voice on the phone, without a face. That would certainly make me an easy choice to cut. My wife said (only half-serious, I believe), “Too bad you can’t send them a video.” As we continued packing, I thought about what she said and I realized she had a good point. At 1 a.m., the night before I flew out for my trip, we shot a short video in my den. I introduced myself, apologized for being unavailable and asked that the panelists not view my absence as a lack of serious interest in the position. I told them that I wanted them to be able to attach a face to my voice when we spoke on the phone. We mailed the DVD in the morning, along with a letter asking the HR director to consider playing it for the panel prior to speaking to me on the phone. Many people have since suggested to me that the video turned a disadvantage into a tremendous advantage. Some have said that it showed creativity and enthusiasm. My wife didn’t know it at the time, but her idea contributed to a turn of events for which she would not have wished. It would eventually uproot her from her home.
While I was a finalist for Chief in Peoria, I was also a finalist for Franklin, Wisconsin. Franklin is a very nice suburb (bedroom community) of Milwaukee, not unlike Dunlap or Germantown Hills. I learned from a police commissioner in Franklin that I was their early first choice, and they were working toward getting approval to make me an offer. I advised them that I was a finalist in Peoria, and they tried to speed up what had been an agonizingly slow process. All the while, my wife and I were uncertain where we were supposed to go. We prayed together that God would light our path. My wife clearly wanted us to wind up in Franklin. It was two miles from our home and close to friends and family. I saw the benefits of Franklin, but I also believed that Peoria would be a more interesting and challenging position. We did not pray for one job or the other. We simply prayed that God would open one door and close the rest. We said we would go wherever He led us. God answered almost immediately. Peoria moved at a rabbit’s pace and quickly offered me the position. The City of Franklin was mired in red tape and bureaucracy and, even though they verbalized that I was their choice, they could not act in time. We accepted the position in Peoria because God’s answer to our prayers was evident.
How has your experience in Milwaukee affected your decision- making in Peoria? Are there any specific programs implemented there which you have brought (or will bring) to Peoria?
When I took the position in Peoria I did not want to try to transform it into a mirror of the department I left. I wanted to first learn the culture of the city and the department, and then bring in only that which I believed would make it better.
Soon after my arrival, I heard many complaints about the department being short-handed. The cause was attributed to both vacant positions and too few positions budgeted. There was a call for hiring more officers and increasing the size of the force. I was uncomfortable going to the Council and asking for more officers before I could even assure them that we were using our current resources efficiently. It became clear that I needed to commence a study of our staffing, particularly uniform patrol staffing. Perhaps the first thing that cried out to me for change was the arrangement of the patrol shifts. Peoria was essentially staffing the same number of officers on the three traditional shifts—with one small contingent of officers working an overlap shift of 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. I had not seen the call data, but I was confident that the call data would show that we were not staffing our people consistent with the workload. Police work has predictable call loads based upon times of day, days of week and months of the year. The department also did not use staggered shifts. All officers on a given shift started and ended their day at the same time. This was very different from what I was used to. My three newly promoted captains and I solicited the help of our in-house strategic planner to gather the necessary data in an attempt to determine where our call loads were greatest, and then to reapportion our troops based on that call load. We all spent many long nights near the end of 2005 working out a plan for change. Under the leadership of Sgt. Michael Eddlemon, the Police Benevolent worked very hard with us, assisting us in making necessary changes and always protecting the best interests of their membership. Through much haggling and several compromises, we created a new overlap shift from noon to 8 p.m., shifted the old overlap shift to 8:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. (keeping them on the street until the 4 a.m. bars closed) and changed the staffing on the three traditional shifts to more closely mirror the workload. Several months later we re-examined the stats and we were pleased to see that the changes had proven to be worthwhile. Staggered start times did not become a reality, but I am hopeful that they may someday.
I also brought with me my belief in the effectiveness of saturation patrols. Shortly after I arrived in Peoria, violence broke out on Main Street during bar closing. Mobs of people loitered on the sidewalks and in the streets; fights were a commonplace event. Officers were being assaulted with rocks and had to resort to using pepperballs to disperse the crowds. I watched the melee on video and knew that something had to be done or someone was going to get seriously hurt or killed. I met with the captains and directed that we make a show of force on Main Street during the next several weekends. We needed to restore order from chaos and we needed to send a clear message to the mob that we would not give them our streets. I directed we have officers in such numbers that no one could fail to understand that disorder would not be tolerated. We assembled what might have been described as a small army for the upcoming weekend. Mayor Ardis joined me on Main Street to observe bar closing and we watched as our officers took back control of the streets. It did not take long for order to return and for the patrons of the Main Street bars to establish new patterns of behavior. After a few weekends, peace returned. It was expensive to put that many officers in such a small place and we were criticized by some for doing it. I would do it again tomorrow. I am confident that terrible things did not happen because of the efforts of our officers. Once new rules were established we were able to withdraw and move into an order maintenance mode. We continue using saturation patrols today in our most troubled neighborhoods. We are convinced of their effectiveness.
Describe your philosophy of fighting crime and how it relates to Peoria’s crime problem specifically.
I am a devout believer in the “Broken Windows Theory.” I believe that when little problems go unaddressed, bigger problems develop as a result. I believe that sweating the small stuff is not natural to most police officers working in an urban environment. It is natural for officers in high crime areas to assume that due to the “real” crime, there is no time to enforce the little things. I believe this because I used to be one of those officers. I have also heard that if I have them focus on “trivial” issues, the big crimes will be neglected. I disagree. Police officers do not need to be prodded to catch real crooks. It comes naturally to them. They do need to be prodded from time to time to address the small offenses. When you look for something small, you can’t help but see the large as well. When you look for something large, you will never see the small. I press our people to sweat the small stuff. I have seen example after example where negative behavior patterns changed because someone started to pay attention and negative consequences were attached to behavior. Crime and disorder can be predominantly attributed to our youth, and our youth can be retrained. Somewhere along the way we have failed to train them in how to conduct themselves in a civil society. We have excused and ignored their behavior and they have learned that we don’t expect much. They give us only what we expect. Just like when I was a teenager and my Dad only expected a 2.5 GPA; I gave him only what he expected. All of society, from the parents to the grandparents, from the police to the schools, from the neighborhood to the next door neighbor, needs to stop hiding from the hooligans and start defining what behaviors we will tolerate and what we will not, and then go about the business of demanding compliance with those standards of behavior. Everyone needs boundaries and deep down we all want to know our boundaries. Let us set some new ones.
The best example of this relates to loud music emanating from cars. Neighborhood after neighborhood cried out for relief from the obnoxious pounding that rattles your windows and your teeth. The police were writing tickets, but to no discernable impact. We proposed impounding cars for loud music. I believed it would be effective, but I also believed the naysayers—more concerned about the youth who are destroying the peace than their victims— would soon be wringing their hands. Some seemed to believe that we would be towing an enormous amount of cars because these kids would not change their behavior. The ordinance was hotly debated and squeaked through by one vote. The city got noticeably quieter before a single car was towed. The young people realized that we were not playing around. There would be no warning. There would be no ticket that was easy to discard. Play your music at an obnoxious level and you will be walking home. Want your car back? Pony up $500. Can’t afford it? Should have thought of that beforehand. It may sound harsh to some, but it works. I believe that one of the worst things we can do to our youth is expect too little. It is like a young child that has no training and no discipline. As they get older the parents can’t figure out why their child is out of control. When people know that we are serious, when they know that we don’t play in Peoria, they will adapt and adjust. They will learn to play by the rules. They will be served by this, and we will all be the benefactors.
I want a police department that is professional and polite, but I want them to be serious about their business. I want them to enforce the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. I also want them to issue fewer warnings for true violations of that spirit. Life is full of warnings. The vast majority of violations are never witnessed by an officer. When you throw trash in someone’s yard and police don’t catch you in the act, you got a warning. When a neighbor tells you to turn down your music, you got a warning. When the police see you do it, you need to get a ticket. The police are the only people capable of doing more than giving a warning. If we give warnings too, then that is all anybody will ever get. When we witness legitimate violations, I want us to take action. I want us to set the tone for a new mindset in Peoria about behavior. I want us to raise the bar and demand that our youth respect others around them. I have half-heartedly toyed with the idea of changing the slogan on our police cars from “Building a Partnership” to “We don’t play in Peoria.”
Are there any unique programs, plans or strategies being used to fight crime in other cities which you would like to try in Peoria?
The easy answer is cameras. We have seen cameras being deployed successfully in other cities like Chicago, and through the leadership of Mayor Ardis, we are bringing camera technology to Peoria. Two cameras are currently in place and we will soon be deploying two more. Other cities have experienced great success with cameras targeting chronic nuisance properties. I suspect we will see the same.
Ceasefire is another program that has seen success in other places and we hope to bring it here. The Mayor’s Crime Task Force is looking into another successful program that was pioneered on the East coast with the help of Harvard University. We hope to learn more about it in the future. It is too early to discuss the particulars, but we are excited about the possibilities this particular program may bring to Peoria.
Do you think that the policy of posting photos of prostitutes and Johns on the Department’s website has been an effective deterrent?
Yes, it has been effective. That is not to say that prostitution has completely disappeared from the target area, but it has been greatly reduced, and that is a victory for the people who live in the affected area. I didn’t come to Peoria with the idea that I was going to target prostitution. It wasn’t even on my radar screen. Neighborhood residents from Morton Square made it an issue for me. They described what it was like to live and raise kids in an area of rampant prostitution and they touched my heart. One woman told me that she couldn’t let her teenage daughters walk down the street because they were being propositioned by strange men for sex. Kids are finding used condoms in the alleys. This victimless crime has many victims. Even the prostitutes themselves are victims.
I put Johns on the web because a citizen wrote to me and suggested it. I did it because I believed that it could have an impact, particularly on the Johns. Many Johns shun the light and do not want their actions exposed. Many have jobs, wives and children. The threat of their picture going public might be just enough of a disincentive to keep them home.
Some successes are more personal. I was approached by a man while I was at the Peoria Home Show with my wife. He asked if I was the Chief and then said his picture was on my website. I prepared for the worst. I was certain he was about to give me a piece of his mind. He thanked me. He said that getting caught and having his arrest publicized was a blessing in disguise. He credited it with turning his life around and saving his marriage. Let it be sufficient to say that I walked away with a renewed sense that good can come from worst of situations. This man was another victim of a victimless crime, but he was on his way to a recovery.
What has been the most challenging issue you’ve faced so far?
I have a couple of issues that have been very challenging. On a personal level, I have spent the last year and a half pursuing a graduate degree from Bradley while serving as the Chief. It has made me an absentee father and an absentee husband. It has also required compromises. I have been trying to do so many things at once that they have all suffered a little. With my graduation this last May, I am happy that I can return to a normal life.
Labor issues have been a difficult challenge. The city and the Police Benevolent have been trying to hammer out a new labor contract for over a year and a half. It consumes our time and our energy. I know we all look forward to settling the contract in the future. Besides contractual issues, there have been problems that I attribute to cultural and philosophical differences. I believe that the Benevolent leadership and I have divergent opinions as to who should have what level of authority and responsibility within the Department. We work hard at resolving our differences, but it has been very taxing.
Homicide rates are another big issue for me as well. We can work hard to reduce crime and we can make great strides, but the homicide rate can still rise and the media will continue to overreact to a rate that is statistically insignificant. The death of a human being is of great significance, but the statistic is often not. This year is a good example. For the first quarter of 2007, violent crimes overall were down over 20 percent from last year. Property crimes dropped 12 percent in 2006 and are now over 20 percent lower than last year. Homicides, on the other hand have risen. We are currently at nine homicides through the beginning of June, and that is high for us. Statistically though, it is difficult to attach real significance to a rise or fall in the number. The numbers are so small and the variables are so great that the total number cannot serve as an accurate barometer of violent crime. If fewer people are shot or assaulted, but the deaths rise, should we consider violence to be on the rise? Conversely, if more people are being shot and assaulted but fewer die, should we take some solace in the numbers? The numbers, more often than not, paint a distorted picture of reality.
How do you relate to citizens’ concerns and how do you learn of their concerns?
I hear from people in many forms. I receive contact from citizens directly via phone calls, emails, letters and personal visits. I also receive comments through the various elected representatives. Perhaps the greatest conduit of information occurs when I attend a meeting of one of the various neighborhood organizations. I enjoy talking to groups of people in these settings. I believe that many of the groups and I have become quite comfortable with one another. They are great sources of information and they are an excellent means to judge the pulse of the people.
The police do not have infinite resources; I have to prioritize our duties and responsibilities. Communication with the neighborhood groups helps me set those priorities. I try to emphasize what is most important to them. In other cases I may de-emphasize issues for which the community has little concern. Let me give you an example of each. The community made it clear to me they were sick of the pounding music from cars. Loud music is not a high crime, but we made it a priority because it was the people’s priority. You can put jaywalking on the opposite end of the spectrum. Despite popular belief, I have never targeted jaywalking. I did assign officers to assess a situation downtown wherein pedestrians expressed their fear of being struck by speeding autos. The officers who were dispatched observed that it was the pedestrians who were causing the problem, not the motorists. The assigned officers, on their own initiative, decided that in this particular case it was appropriate to cite the pedestrians. That launched into a firestorm wherein the press and the public falsely believed that downtown pedestrian enforcement had become a priority. It had not. I had not changed our policy nor our approach to pedestrians. Soon after my arrival in Peoria, I realized that the accepted culture here is to cross the street when you think it is safe to do so, regardless of what the walk signal says. The public truly doesn’t care about the issue, and I have not made it a priority. Two things can change that. Either the public has a change of heart or it becomes evident to me that the current practices are unduly dangerous. A real threat to life overrides the public’s wishes and in such an event, we will proceed to educate the public and warn that we are going to enforce the ordinance more stringently.
How have technology and the Internet changed the way you do your job?
Technology has given us some great tools that I never had when I was a young cop. When I was a rookie, no one on my 2,200-man department owned a bulletproof vest. Today, all officers wear them. We now use Tasers to protect ourselves as well as citizens—and injuries are down for both officers and suspects as a result. We use pepper spray for similar purposes. Our cars are equipped with better lighting systems, laptop computers, etc. The Internet has enabled us to monitor live cameras from a squad car and pan/tilt/zoom that camera in real time. That being said, despite all the technological advancements, good police work still boils down to good officers doing good work.
What advice do you have for members of the public who want to be more involved in their individual neighborhoods and communities? How can we help keep our neighborhoods safe?
Here are some suggestions that all contribute in a small way:
- Join your neighborhood organization and be active in it. Form one if you don’t have one.
- Get out of your house and socialize with your neighbors. Sit on your porch, walk your sidewalks. Do not let the crooks own your street. Police have spent decades training people to be sheep. Sheep are only great to have around if you are a wolf.
- Maintain order where it exists; restore order where it does not.
- Practice intolerance! Be emboldened. Challenge behaviors that don’t belong in a civil society. Refuse to accept what we have learned to tolerate.
- Start at home. Make sure that your own kids and your own grandkids are not contributing to the problem.
- Reach one, just one. Don’t be overwhelmed by trying to save the whole world. When I meet a person who succeeded and rose from the worst of upbringings, I always ask them how they made it. The single most common answer is that someone reached them. One single person made a connection with them and showed them another way. Not a program, not a grand plan, but a person.
- Join the Guardian Angels.
- Be a good witness.
- Do not refuse to be a witness because just because you think you might be harmed if you do. If you let a murderer or an armed robber go free because you are afraid of retribution, you are virtually guaranteeing there will be a next victim. Sometimes doing the right thing requires bravery and an unwillingness to sacrifice our neighbors for our own perceived safety.
Are there any misconceptions about you or your position in general that you would like to clear up?
I am not interested in going back to Milwaukee to be the Chief there. I have not applied for the position and I do not plan on leaving Peoria for a long time. My family and I love this city and I love my department. I hope to be the Chief here at least four more years and probably much longer than that.
Secondly, I don’t get anything accomplished alone. I have a team of three great captains who really give it their all every day. I am very proud of them. I am proud of the rest of my supervisors, officers and staff. We are not perfect, but we have a lot of talented people who are trying very hard to improve our city. IBI