In the wake of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict, a number of local organizations issued statements reacting to the news by remembering George Floyd, examining the true meaning of justice and renewing a commitment to reform. The Homewood and Flossmoor police departments, in particular, stated their desire to be partners with their communities and to make sure law enforcement is fair for all.
Making good on that commitment takes more than a statement. It requires ongoing efforts to improve practices and policies. It requires an ongoing dialogue with the communities police departments serve. And, in the case of villages as closely related as Homewood and Flossmoor, it requires ongoing collaboration.
So, the Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle reached out to Flossmoor Police Chief Tod Kamleiter and recently promoted Homewood Police Chief Denise McGrath to take the discussion on their efforts further than those statements. Both agreed to answer questions via email.
It is the Chronicle’s intention that this will be but another piece in an ongoing dialogue with the community about these issues. And Kamleiter said that dialogue has long been crucial to his philosophy on policing.
“It is important for me to understand the needs and concerns of those that we serve and protect,” Kamleiter said. “If we don’t, we build barriers instead of meaningful relationships.”
Kamleiter insists he is listening to the concerns raised by Flossmoor residents. For example, when he heard last year from community members that the process of filing a complaint — which previously required people to physically come to the station and talk with a supervisor about the grievance before accessing a form and signing a written affidavit — was “somewhat intimidating,” it opened his eyes.
“I had never considered this process to be intimidating, but now realizing this was a barrier to transparency and communication, we changed the process,” he said. “Now, anyone can walk in and request the form or download it directly from our website.”
McGrath said Homewood has been analyzing past practices and building on lessons learned for the future.
“Reflecting on past and present incidents trains us to objectively evaluate our behavior and practices, even in situations that have a positive outcome, to formulate alternative action plans to mitigate unexpected circumstances that may occur,” she said.
To that end, the Homewood Police Department recently added information to the village’s website regarding its training and policies that it intends to update on a regular basis, according to McGrath. It covers Civil Rights, Cultural Competency, Crisis Negotiation, Mental Health Awareness, Sexual Assault Trauma Informed Response, Human Rights, Procedural Justice, Use of Force, Street Crimes, Interview and Interrogation, Legal Updates, Supervision of Police Personnel, Constitutional Use of Law Enforcement Authority and National Incident Management System. Anyone has the ability to click any of those bubbles to learn more about Homewood’s efforts.
“These are the broad titles that the State of Illinois uses, but these titles encompass implicit bias, racism, etc.,” McGrath said.
According to the website, police academy recruits are subject to 560 hours of training. But every officer in the department also must undergo continuous professional training that includes daily, monthly, quarterly and yearly elements to stay up-to-date on policies and procedures mandated by the State.
The changes and improvements Homewood is making are in accordance with the Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, McGrath explained. That report outlines six pillars to improve community and public relations. They are: Trust and Legitimacy, Policy and Oversight, Technology and Social Media, Community Policing and Crime Reduction, Training and Education, and Officer Wellness and Safety.
Of course, it is one thing to provide the training opportunities and another to get an entire department to buy into those approaches. McGrath said Homewood police are truly on board with doing what they can to better serve the community.
“Response by department personnel, police officers and civilian department members, to the initiatives I’ve shared with you have all been overwhelmingly positive,” McGrath said. “Especially with in-person contact being limited the past year, department personnel are looking forward to opportunities to engage with the community. They are also being asked to submit their ideas to connect and build relationships.”
In Flossmoor, Kamleiter said the village has made concerted efforts to increase education and training in its department, with officers over the past few years undergoing roughly 300 hours of training on topics such as cultural competence and implicit bias. The department’s leadership team also has taken part in training provided by the Government Alliance on Racial Equity and the North Shore YWCA Equity Institute.
“It is difficult to measure the success of any one training initiative,” Kamleiter acknowledged. “The additional training provided to our officers has been very well received and, yes, we are always looking for additional personal and professional growth opportunities.”
The Flossmoor department updated its use of force policy to meet new federal guidelines regarding chokeholds. It also plans to implement body-worn camera systems ahead of the Illinois’ schedule. Homewood police began using body cameras and an in-car camera system in 2019.
“We completed a body-worn camera pilot late in December 2020,” Kamleiter said. “The pilot went very well, and all of our officers are supportive of the program. We look to implement the full program in early summer, four years ahead of the new state mandate, to aid in the transparency of policing in Flossmoor.”
Despite some of the recent changes in training and policy, Kamleiter said he does not think a lot has changed in terms of the department’s mindset.
“I don’t believe we’ve had much of a shift in our policing philosophy,” he said. “Since I began my Flossmoor career back in 1996, I’ve felt that this organization has always been one of service to the community first. We have always looked for ways to create and engage in positive interactions with the members of the village and those who pass through it, and we’ve used those interactions to learn the needs and wants of our community.”
Instilling that mentality in his team starts at the beginning and the top.
“We are community service oriented and, through careful hiring and training, we continue to foster that attitude,” Kamleiter said. “Also, myself and the members of my command staff walk the talk. Not only are we intentional in looking for opportunities for positive community engagement, we encourage all of our officers to do the same.”
Police need to take such a proactive approach, McGrath said.
“Seeking improvement should not just happen when there has been a failure or breakdown in a process; it should be a commonplace occurrence,” McGrath said. “Personal and professional growth and development occur when you challenge yourself and those around you to strive to be better.”
To that end, McGrath said Homewood is focusing on more community-engagement opportunities. It plans to relaunch its social media presence on Facebook and Instagram starting Friday, May 21. It has started to introduce its officers to the community every Friday through an e-newswire. And the department has already scheduled a few community engagement opportunities for this spring and summer.
“I value feedback from the community, praise or criticism,” McGrath said.
McGrath noted the two departments also are collaborating for their participation in the Juneteenth Festival, to be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 19 at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. Both departments have been involved with the annual National Night Out. And Kamleiter noted they may collaborate on a joint Citizens Police Academy.
“We have a great relationship with the Homewood Police Department, both in mutual aid response to incidents and in joint-training opportunities, and this year we look forward to partnering in more community engagement functions,” Kamleiter said.
“Collaboration is essential throughout the law enforcement community,” McGrath added. “When we talk about building relationships in the community, that includes the law enforcement community. There are formal and informal means to accomplish that.”
McGrath serves on a half-dozen boards and organizations to help build those collaborative efforts. Both departments provide mutual aid to each other, as well as surrounding suburbs. They are involved in organizations that focus on accident reconstruction, major crimes investigations and critical incident responses. They also work with a number of local school districts with the “common goals of providing a safe and enriching atmosphere for students,” McGrath said.
Schedule of Homewood Police Department’s Community Engagement Opportunities
- 9-11 a.m. May 21 — Coffee with a Cop, Gloria Jeans, 18322 Governors Highway
- June Date TBD — Cake with a Cop, Portillo’s, 17500 Halsted St.
- July Date TBD — Pizza with the Police, Aurelio’s Pizza, 18162 Harwood Ave.