While community policing programs are nothing new, they fell out of popularity after a big push in the early 90s due to shifting priorities and budget crunches of the Great Recession. But with growing scrutiny of police and their often strained relationships with minority communities, police departments are increasingly looking to community policing programs to bridge the gap and rebuild trust.
The Rockford Police Department (RPD) is no exception and has launched a unique pilot program that takes community policing to the extreme by not only assigning officers to high-crime areas but asking them to live there too. The department recently established a pilot housing program for police officers that encourages them to live in the areas of town they police by providing them with free housing for a minimum of 2 years. These “resident officers” live and work in the same high-crime area and are tasked with forming relationships with community members. The RPD is betting that this program will foster a sense of community between officers and residents resulting in an increase of trust and decrease of crime in the area.
This program is only one of several new initiatives launched by Chief Dan O’Shea who was installed in 2016 to deal with the city’s high crime rate. O’Shea was previously the chief of police in Elgin, Illinois which began experimenting with a resident officer program in the early 90s.
Freethink traveled to Rockford, Illinois to learn more about the program and see firsthand how it was working.