DeKALB – Having grown up in a small town, Jared Burke likes knowing his neighbors and waving hello to those who drive down the street.
Burke, a DeKalb police patrol officer, and his family recently moved to a home at 624 N. 11th St. in the Pleasant Street neighborhood of DeKalb. He’s the first officer to take part in the city’s enhanced resident officer program, which puts an officer in a city-purchased and -renovated home and makes that neighborhood his specialized beat.
“It feels good to help people,” he said. “This program, to me, makes it more personal.”
Although the city has had a patrol officer living in a property provided by the DeKalb County Housing Authority since 2004, the enhanced resident officer program involves the purchase and updating of an older house.
“This is more of a progressive step,” said DeKalb police Lt. Carl Leoni.
In researching the idea, DeKalb officials looked at successful programs in Elgin and Oak Park.
The goal is to identify crime, improve the appearance of and reduce the density of the neighborhood, which is bordered by 14th Street, the Union Pacific railroad, Fourth Street/Sycamore Road and East Dresser Road.
Additionally, Burke will develop relationships with residents and act as their liaison to other city departments and social service agencies.
DeKalb City Manager Mark Biernacki said about $135,000 in tax increment financing funds has been used to purchase the property and renovate to the home.
In a tax increment financing district, a local government freezes the tax base from properties within a defined area. Any new property taxes in that district – generally by an increase in property values since the year the district was created – are diverted into a special fund set up for redevelopment projects within the district.
The duplex was purchased in May. Renovations by Irving Construction Co. included the removal of the second unit, paving the driveway, updating the heating and ventilation system, replacing the garage door and remodeling the kitchen and bathrooms.
In choosing a neighborhood, Leoni said they used criteria such as an area’s density, criminal activity – including the number of and nature of calls – and the needs of residents.
Other patrol officers aren’t required to live in DeKalb, and they rotate coverage zones within the city. They know the city well, but not certain people specifically, Leoni said. The unique combination of living in and covering the same area will allow Burke to become personally invested in the neighborhood.
It also means his schedule will be flexible because he’ll not only be on patrol but also attending PTA meetings or other neighborhood functions.
Leoni said police hope to encourage residents to feel empowered to solve their own problems and be comfortable coming to the police.
“People in that neighborhood there have shown there’s a willingness to get involved,” Leoni said.
Bruce Mackenzie has lived on Lewis Street for 35 years and said those who’ve been in the older neighborhood for some time would agree the program is needed. He said he knows Burke and is excited to see his influence on the neighborhood.
“This is something that will pay off over and over again,” he said. “That’s what any neighborhood wants, being taken care of.”
Anna Hostetler, who lives with her family on 11th Street next to Liberty Park, said she hoped vandalism in the park, like damaged picnic tables and graffiti on the shelter house, would be addressed.
Megan Gerken, who has lived across from the park on Lewis Street for about three years, said the Pleasant Street neighborhood is the right place to start.
“I think we have kind of a transient population in this neighborhood, so it’ll be good to get them to care about the neighborhood,” Gerken said.
Ideally, Burke will become a teacher, counselor and conduit to various community resources, Leoni said.
“I don’t want to pigeonhole myself and say this is what I’m going to do because it’ll run the gamut,” Burke said.
“He’s going to be a busy man,” Leoni added.
Burke – who lives rent-free in the home but is responsible for utility costs – hopes his home sets a good example for others in the neighborhood. Already, nearby properties are having new siding installed and masonry repairs done, Biernacki said.
“Property maintenance improvements beget property maintenance improvements,” Biernacki said.
No time frame has been placed on the program: Officials will look at it annually to determine progress. In a few years, if improvements have been made, the city can sell the home, Leoni said.
If the program is successful, the city plans to apply the idea to another neighborhood in need. Biernacki said the long-range TIF budget has identified money for another resident officer program property in a yet-to-be-identified neighborhood.
DeKalb police Chief Gene Lowery said he appreciates the commitment the city has made in support of the program and hopes the community receives it well.
“They’re not just police officers. They’re neighbors, they’re problem-solvers and brokers of service,” he said. “What affects that community affects them.”