Bensenville, IL—On Wednesday, January 30 and Thursday, January 31, 2013 the community in Bensenville came to the Village Hall for two days of celebration where people from their six crime prevention programs received “Public Safety Commendations” from Mayor Frank Soto and Police Chief Frank Kosman.
On October 2009, the Bensenville Police Department began a “Comprehensive Community Oriented Policing Initiative.” While community policing is something practiced in many local municipalities, the programs in Bensenville became fully customized from the best practices from the safest cities in the world and by reviewing traditional crime prevention programs in existence.
Two programs that were extensively applied in the “Bensenville Model” were the “Community Policing and the Intelligence-Led Policing Programs” created in part by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS); two remarkable programs with thousands of hours from experts in policing.
During the preliminary investigation, it became clear that police departments practicing “Community Oriented Police Models” were not necessarily reproducing the program as designed but making the programs fit the community they serve. Yet, a bigger challenge and frustration expressed by many Chiefs of Police who tried to adopt a community oriented policing model was with trying to change police culture. Therefore, the Bensenville Model had to leave the police culture untouched something that was nearly impossible to do. In other words, allow the community to begin to shift the ground on how police did their work and let them adapt to the change.
The Bensenville Police Department began to implement a fully customized comprehensive crime prevention initiative, without challenging police culture. Now we turn on the program implementation. On October 2009, Bensenville only had one Neighborhood Watch Group with 7 members. The group had been operating for many years and the police department was providing them support and a forum for monthly meetings. Rick Cuvala a local business owner and resident was one of the main drivers of this one program and became an important element in the new programs (Rick passed away in February, 2012; he was instrumental in all the programs).
So what was stopping traditional Neighborhood Watch groups from forming?
There were a number of reasons why people were not motivated to build traditional Neighborhood Watch groups. Here are the top three reasons:
- People did not have time to recruit and maintain Neighborhood Watch groups mainly because working with people takes time. People today have a lot of their plate already and running a Neighborhood Watch group is not one of their priorities.
- After attending several meetings with that one traditional group, and witnessing arguments and disagreements between the members, it became clear that the Bensenville PD would not be able to manage more than a few so called traditional groups.
- And lastly, the community is racially diverse and people would not so easily go out and recruit for whatever reasons or simply recruit people like them. Thus excluding many members in the community.
These three reasons caused the Bensenville Police Department to create a new model in order to overcome the shortcomings of the traditional Neighborhood Watch Program.
Six solutions were found during the process in order to overcome the shortcomings of the traditional program:
- The Community Oriented Police Division would maintain and recruit in the entire town and group people in the areas they live regardless if they know anyone in their neighborhood. Note: The program never shares information about neighboring members to avoid politics.
- Eliminated the traditional group and form one centralized group with many sub-groups from all over Bensenville. This included the different programs, which will be explained next.
- Use every available contact with the community to enroll new members including victims of crimes. Also address all the crimes not just the Part 1.
- Eliminate the control of the groups to individuals in the community. Instead, build the groups and maintain the contact inside the Community Oriented Police Division. This one step eliminated the politics and arguments in the groups.
- Provide monthly educational opportunities for members of citywide groups to come for training and networking with police and other members of the crime prevention initiative.
- Invite all the groups from all the different programs to take part in community events. Such as active shooter drills at O’Hare Airport, cleaning of Redmond Park, Sport Leagues, and other social events.
Adopting these six ideas to the Bensenville model was the turning point. Today, 55 Neighborhood Watch groups are active in Bensenville with 500 members in a community of 20,000 people. The Business Watch Program has about 260 businesses registered, and the ORD Airport Watch Program has 150 members. And of course, what is a Neighborhood Watch program without signs. In Bensenville signs are found everywhere in the town, as an added deterrent factor.
One year into the program development, the “Community Oriented Police Division” became a single division with the sole mission was to focus on crime prevention. By the time of the formation of the division, Bensenville now had six different crime prevention groups that also served as community volunteers. Today, the different groups are the Neighborhood Watch, Business Watch, ORD Airport Watch, Organizations Watch, Student Watch, and Crime Free Multi-Housing Program.
Going back to the 2 day celebration in Bensenville, Village President Frank Soto stated “It is my pleasure to recognize these volunteer members of our Crime Prevention Programs and to reward their partnership with our police department. This is a clear indication that the police and the community can work well together for the common goal of increasing safety. The results of this partnership can be shown in the continued reduction in crime in Bensenville over the past few years.”
Village Manager Michael Cassady, the biggest proponent of the crime prevention initiatives, added, “We are seeing positive participation from these community based safety initiatives. The significant and quantifiable results of these programs have gotten the attention of police agencies at all levels with jurisdictions proximate to major transportation assets. Other US cities, as well as international cities, are seeing value in the Bensenville Model.”
In recognition of the efforts from the Village of Bensenville, on November 2012, in New York City, the Bensenville Police Department was given the prestigious International Police and 9/11 Commendation Medal for pioneering the O’Hare Airport Watch in Bensenville. Australia recently adopted successful Airport Watch Program and is applying the program nationwide. Commissioner Tony Negus, APM, IPM of the Australia Federal Police (AFP) was a recipient of the InterPortPolice International Police and Public Safety 9/11 Medal for distinguished aviation achievement for the revamping their county’s airport police program that included the adoption of the Airport Watch Program, a flag ship for crime prevention around big airports.
The programs are working well in Bensenville. However, how safe do people feel in Bensenville?
In 2012, a survey in perception of safety, the community in Bensenville felt 84% safe in the community. Nations strive to achieve safety levels but few actually achieve them. Singapore is top 3 safest countries in the world and they get an 85% rating, in a similar perception survey.
“It has been 20 years since the last big advance in Policing in the US, what Bensenville has been piloting, could be just what policing needs. In this new world of Cities having to do more with less, Police are no different. Cities have to make changes to meet this new reality and working with the community in a more proactive way… Chicago is just down the street, and I think should be a key test to the program,” said Rich Roth, Executive Director for CTI Consulting and retired U.S. Secret Service.
In 2009, 1000 criminal cases were processed in Bensenville. Closing 2012, the numbers were around 300, an amazing 70% overall reduction. “When over 50% of the activity of the police department is directed by the community crime prevention programs in Bensenville, an alarm bell should go off for communities experiencing crime, violence and lack of collaboration from the community” according to Secretary General Jay Grant, of InterPortPolice.
The comprehensive crime reduction model, the dedication of one division to serve the community, and the partnership with crime prevention groups from six different pools of people, could potentially change “traditional policing” in the USA, where the focus is normally in reaction and not in proactive approaches, as indicated by Mr. Rich Roth.
To learn more about the programs visit www.bensenville.il.us