New liaison hired to connect Oak Park police and public

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By Megan Dooley

Staff Reporter

In his own words, Dennis Leaks will explain that he's not reinventing the wheel. Everything he does in his current position as Community Policing Liaison for the Oak Park Police Department has been done for years. It's just that it used to be in the hands of a police officer.

Beginning in April, the police department decided to take a different direction when they hired Leaks, a civilian, to fill the newly created liaison position. Prior to Leaks' arrival, similar tasks were carried out by community service officers. But there seemed always to be a divide between the public and the police, and the department hopes Leaks will bridge that gap.

"We wanted to bring in a citizen from the outside ... who would allow us another way to connect with the community and could offer a different perspective for us," said Sgt. Dave Jacobson.

Hiring a civilian in the position also addresses another issue between the department and village residents. "Not everybody wants to talk to police officers," explained Jacobson. "They might be better willing to open up to us if we had a civilian representative."

Leaks has, in many ways, been preparing for such a position for much of his adulthood. His father was a police officer, and Leaks himself has been in the Army Reserves for nearly a decade. He graduated college with a degree in public administration, but quickly determined that his community involvement would best be served outside of a government position.

Before he was hired by the Oak Park Police Department, Leaks worked for two years as a food stamp outreach coordinator for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. And because of the recession, he was interacting with people from highly diverse backgrounds.

"We had to deal with not just the people who had had exposure to the program for maybe [their] entire lives in some cases, but we had to deal with a lot of newly unemployed professionals who had no idea how the program worked at all," Leaks said. Sensitivity was essential in connecting with these clients. "We had to be there really to comfort them in a lot of situations because for some of them it was really humiliating or embarrassing that they had to ask these questions."

Navigating such interpersonal minefields, Leaks felt prepared for his current endeavor.

"It's the perfect role for me because my job is to be out talking to people," Leaks said.

Jacobson noted that Leaks' first few months in the position have been mostly an orientation period, but he has also worked on creating a survey to gauge the needs of the public.

"I want to get a lot of their feedback as far as our zone meetings," Leaks said. The village is divided into eight zones, each of which holds a monthly meeting conducted by the resident beat officer assigned to that zone.

"The meetings are really not about us so much as ... about us getting the perspectives of the citizens and their safety and their quality of life," Leaks said.

The process of getting the public to speak up and be more involved is not an easy one, especially because the Oak Park Police Department seems to be a pioneer in the effort. "It's hard to look at other departments and benchmark from them because a lot of the things we're doing, a lot of people are not doing as much as we are, or have not been doing them for as long," Leaks said.

One model he turns to is the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) program in the city of Chicago.

"It's been around since the '90s. It's their version of community policing," Jacobson said. "They have civilians who act as mediators in the community, which go out there and gather information ... about the community. And they also act as a go-between between the neighborhoods. And that's where we're trying to model a lot of what we do, and a lot of what the expectations are for Dennis."

Leaks said his major goal is to be very vocal and visible in the public, and to educate residents on the number of different services, apart from crime-related law enforcement, that the police department provides.

"That's really the major part, to be out and about so people can view me and see me as a resource," Leaks said.

"We need to spread awareness ... of our services," Jacobson said. He added that there won't be any confusion about Leaks' civilian role in the department. "He's not the police. He's not going to represent himself as the police," he said.

Jacobson said Leaks' transition so far has been smooth and effective. And Leaks himself said that in his role as a community liaison, he's found the ideal position to match his personality.

"I didn't intend to do something like this, but it really was more of the perfect fit for me," he said.

Reader Comments

33 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Mark  

Posted: August 2nd, 2011 11:37 AM

This comment section is so useful. I mention that there have been four armed robberies within a week in Oak Park and every other poster responds to software and screen names. No wonder these crimes occur in Oak Park.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: August 2nd, 2011 10:17 AM

And in addition to getting a new software or a new platform, or whatever the term is, so that folks can't use a screen name already in use, unless it matches the original email address used to "register" it, can this site also have a decent search engine? The current one is one 1/16 step above worthless.

Taxpayer  

Posted: August 2nd, 2011 5:32 AM

I wish someone would "hijack" my tax bill and pay it. LoL!!

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 11:41 PM

Editor, last week another person reported that their screen name had been hijacked.

Mark  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 9:32 PM

It was 4 armed robberies within a week. It's not a rumor. All others papers and local news are reporting the same.

Editor from Oak Park  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 9:29 PM

Well someone else is using the my name, Editor from Oak Park. If we are going to have people like that, pretending to be other people, then W.J. is going to have to have verified e-mails. Violet, you will notice on my posts that I do not call people stupid or insult people. If W.J. wants, they can verify who currently is impostering my name.

Jg Morales  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 8:24 PM

"Trust is Earned" makes a good point. However, I think this guy was hired to make buddies with the people who couldn't trust the cops in their previous neighborhoods, or other miscellaneous reasons? (correct me if I'm wrong) I don't distrust the OPPD because they haven't caught whomever. Yet the number of unsolved crimes does raise an eyebrow... or two. Although, to be fair, I don't know how OPPD ranks in that area when compared to other towns either. As a generally concerned citizen, you want the bad guys to be caught. Maybe a liaison will actually help. Time will tell. Good luck to Mr. Leaks.

Editor from Oak Park  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 8:09 PM

So your stupid assumption was based on a stupid assumption? That's clears it all up.

Violet Aura  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 7:18 PM

@Editor: My bad. I ASSumed when you call yourself EDITOR that perhaps you were from the WJ or Triblocal or something official like that.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 7:16 PM

Joe - I agree with you 100%. I can't figure out the patronizing thank yous elected officials receive at the site. I am glad to receive their viewpoints, but also realize that most support a single position -- theirs. Posters need to understand that while the board controls the conversation at village hall, they are just another voice at the WJ Comments.

Editor from Oak Park  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 7:08 PM

Violet Aura, had to laugh at you assuming the 6 or 7 robberies happened. I don't know how many, if any. Mark from Oak Park, said he heard about armed robberies on the N/E Side of Oak Park. No numbers have been verified, if any. This is how those silly little rumors get started.

Violet Aura  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 5:22 PM

Whoa Mister/Mizz Editor: "6 or 7" armed robberies in six days' time is no biggie? Calgon take me away!

Trust is Earned from Oak Park  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 12:37 PM

I'd trust the police more if they could catch the Oak Park Choker, catch the guy doing armed robberies in NE OP, keep heroin sales out of the McDonalds parking lot, solve any of those unsolved OP murders, check the hospitals for missing persons, etc. I wish Dennis all the best...but a public outreach position can only do so much when the police are clearly struggling.

Editor from Oak Park  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 12:09 PM

Mark, news stations like to hype up stories. How many armed robberies were there? 5, 6, 7, maybe at the most? Dennis wasn't needed because the crime was reported so the people knew they can trust the Police.

Mark from Oak Park  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 10:40 AM

Looks like Dennis is off to a poor start. I saw on WGN news that there have been a number of armed robberies in North East Oak Park since this past Tuesday. One took place at 6pm! The article states that OP Police are warning residents. Really? Then why am I hearing it for the first time on WGN news?

Joe  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 6:26 AM

Discussing issues on here with elected officials is also getting greedy. This is not an official forum for to the village. It's nice that they come on here and respond but if they didn't so what. People could make the same case for them responding to comments on Facebook and saying they are public. This is a nice perk but it's not required and I would dare say them not doing it at all doesn't make them less engaged.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: July 29th, 2011 9:38 PM

A benefit of discussing an issue on this forum with an elected official is that information can be shared with the community. Contacting trustees personally via the phone or e-mail does not provide the same opportunity. It also makes sure that the official's comments are not being taken out of context or misconstrued. Because of the active participation of President Pope, Trustee Johnson and Clerk Powell,we've learned a great deal about the decision process.

JOHN MURTAGH from OAK PARK  

Posted: July 29th, 2011 5:32 PM

CORRECTION TO PREV-P0ST Ray's suggestion of communicating w/the board and staff by e-mail, letter, etc. is good. The problem is getting responses. The Village Mgr response is very good. The response from staff members is inconsistent at best. Neither the VM or its staff participate in the WJ blog. The response from the Village Clerk Office is excellent including on the WJ Comments. Board response to letters, e-mails,and WJ Comments from board is minimal and only when the issue becomes public.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: July 29th, 2011 11:37 AM

There is nothing wrong with Ray's suggestion of communicating with the board and staff by e-mail, letter, etc. The problem is getting responses. The Village Manager response is very good. The response from staff members is inconsistent at best. Neither the VM or its staff participate in the WJ blog. The response from the Village Clerk Office is excellent including on the WJ Comments. Board response to letters, e-mails, and WJ Comments is minimal and only when the issue becomes very public.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2011 9:23 AM

@ Ms. Eads and others: The Village Board is always interested in feedback and you can reach the Village Manager and entire board by emailing: board@oak-park.us You can also call the 358.5784 and a voicemail will get to the Village Manager and entire Village Board as well. It is much more likely that a direct email or phone call can be responded to by the board via phone or email vs. on-line posts, which we can't all follow on a regular basis. Thanks....

Dennis Leaks, Community Policing Liaison  

Posted: July 29th, 2011 7:59 AM

Mr. Coughlin, I do routinely read article comments. At your suggestion, I revisited the letter you're referencing and read the comments that were added since I last read the letter. Thank you for the helpful suggestion.I appreciate it and welcome feedback in the future. dleaks@oak-park.us 708-358-5501 x 8023

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: July 29th, 2011 2:00 AM

Best of luck to Dennis Leaks. I hope he takes the opportunity to read the comments posted on this forum in response to the July 19 "One View" offered by David Pope.

Zena from Oak Park  

Posted: July 28th, 2011 4:40 PM

The appointment of this young man is a step in the right direction. His presence should go a long way to bridge the often tenuous relationship between the police and the citizenry, specifically the youth of the community.

Dennis Leaks, Community Policing Liaison  

Posted: July 28th, 2011 3:44 PM

Mary Ellen Eads, from the public safety perspective we have the village organized into 8 separate zones. While this is not the same as an aldermanic system, it does afford the citizens, businesses, and stakeholders in any zone an opportunity to voice their concerns and work with our resident beat officers to resolve these issues. Please contact me with any of your safety concerns. E-mail: dleaks@oak-park.us Phone number: 708.358.5501 x8023. I'm sorry that I forgot to include my contact info :(

Cynthia from River Forest  

Posted: July 28th, 2011 2:22 PM

As a former resident of the city of chicago where the CAPS program was utilized in my district and was highly successful, I find the addition of a civilian liasion to be beneficial to the community.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: July 28th, 2011 1:05 PM

I'm sure he'll do a fine job, but I would still like to return to an aldermanic system whereby neighborhoods have representatives, as is the case in Chicago. Oak Park has serious public safety problems, but we have other problems as well. Oak Park is several communities, and without individual clout, it is difficult for citizens to be heard.

Editor from Oak Park  

Posted: July 27th, 2011 2:48 PM

Everyone on this post forum seems to already know who he is, Joyce.

Joyce E Carr from Riverdale  

Posted: July 27th, 2011 1:46 PM

He should be on the TV show Someone You Know. He is a wonderful young man with a great Mom. My prayers for continued success will be with you.

Editor from Oak Park  

Posted: July 27th, 2011 12:57 PM

Oak Park Police Department is very professional and I am gathering from the article that people may feel more at ease talking about criminal activity or safety concern with a civilian who is obviously still part of the Police Department, over a Police Officer. But it is nice that the new position with give Mr. Leaks employment.

Belinda Hicks from Elmhurst  

Posted: July 27th, 2011 12:38 PM

I read the article and believe that every community can benefit from having someone to represent them so they can have an unbiased voice. I will present this idea to my community when we have a town meeting. Kudos to the OPPD for having such keen foresight!

Impressed Tax Payer  

Posted: July 27th, 2011 11:31 AM

This is EXACTLY what this (and all) communities need. An intelligent positive young male representative to spearhead these efforts. Praise to OPPD for having the wise foresight to hire such a well rounded impressive young man...way to go!

R  

Posted: July 27th, 2011 11:19 AM

Sounds like a great idea. His mother must be VERY proud!

Jewell Hamilton, MSW from Chicago  

Posted: July 27th, 2011 11:00 AM

As a former Social Worker, I applaud the Oak Park Police Department for the creation of this new position and for the newly hired energetic young man. Kudos to the proactive efforts of the OPPD!

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