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DeKALB – A group of Northern Illinois University students has started a petition to ask DeKalb to move the agreed upon location of its new police station.
The DeKalb City Council recently hired architectural firm PSA Dewberry to design the $12 million station at the intersection of West Lincoln Highway and Carroll Avenue.
But an online petition, “Move the Construction Site away from the NIU students,” states that location is too close to the university’s Center for Black Studies and Women’s Resource Center, and asks the city to move it elsewhere.
“Having this police station would create an uncomfortable environment at NIU and would bring negative results rather than increased safety,” the petition states.
The petition was started Dec. 5 by students Farouk Olayiwola and Adam Lopez; as of 6 p.m. Monday, it had 15 signatures.
Attempts last week and Monday to reach the students were unsuccessful, but Olayiwola told the city council Nov. 28 that putting a station there would distract students taking classes at the Center for Black Studies, and was redundant because the NIU Police station is a few blocks north on Lucinda Avenue.
The larger issue, said Derrick Smith, academic counselor for the center, is the city did not adequately consult with students before making its decision. Meetings this month among Smith, his students, DeKalb Mayor Kris Povlsen and DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen did not satisfy the concerns, Smith said.
“It was basically just to extend the hand and say, ‘We did meet with you,’ ” he said.
Smith said in fall 2010, Povlsen promised a police station would not be built on West Lincoln Highway as long as he was mayor.
Povlsen denied that claim, and said he was “somewhat perplexed” by the protest because the council has been talking about building a station there since buying the land about five years ago.
“They can certainly make a petition, but I have very little doubt that the council will stand behind the decision,” he said.
While the meeting largely focused on issues of police presence near the Center for Black Studies, Povlsen said he and Feithen also touched on the different jurisdictional concerns of NIU and city police and why officials bought the land on West Lincoln Highway for a police station.
Feithen has said about 75 percent of the department’s calls are north of the railroad tracks, and the train gates are down a few hours each day, often impeding officers.
Povlsen and Feithen said they still want to meet with students to address any larger concerns about the relationship between students and city police officers.
“I’ve made myself available. I’ve attended meetings of minority student organizations in the past, as recently as last spring,” Feithen said, noting he also addressed a recent NIU Student Association Senate meeting in which the Senate passed a resolution supporting the new station.
Feithen said DeKalb officers also receive regular diversity training from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Joseph Flynn, an assistant professor in curriculum and instruction for NIU’s College of Education, said he signed the petition after students emailed it to him.
His students say DeKalb Police tend to be less tolerant and less patient with students than NIU Police, he said, and he questioned the city’s argument that the new location will give police faster access to the city’s northwest side, where a large portion of calls come from.
“I understand law enforcement’s need to be responsive,” Flynn said. “But at the same time, was that the only place they had to choose from? I guess that’s the major problem.”
On the Web
The petition can be found at www.thepetitionsite.com/1/move-the-construction-site-away-from-the-niu-students.