DeKALB – In his first two months as Northern Illinois University's police chief, Thomas Phillips has noticed some residents' perception of crime outweighs reality.
When he meets with students and other groups, he tries to reassure them that the DeKalb area is a safe place and local police can work with them to reduce the fear of crime. Phillips worked at the University of Illinois at Chicago on the city's west side and the University of Chicago on the south side before he joined NIU on Sept. 16.
“There’s always going to be a concern over crime, but there’s a significant difference between a fear of crime and actual crime," Phillips said. "Having lived in Chicago for the last two decades, there’s definitely a higher crime rate out there and a higher probability of being victimized by crime out there. So I noticed coming out here that the fear of crime doesn’t correlate with the actual crime rate."
In the past several weeks, Phillips has been assessing the police force and the community so he can suggest ways to improve the department. He's also built upon NIU leaders' commitment to building partnerships with other local police departments. He hopes to bring more community policing programs that would reduce crime by trying to solve community problems.
“I’m still assessing," said Phillips, whose family recently moved to Sycamore. "[NIU President Douglas Baker] and Vice President [Bill] Nicklas have empowered me to make changes as I need to make them. I’m looking at different things and how I’m going to roll that out.”
Phillips and DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery are discussing having an NIU police officer work out of the new city police station at 700 W. Lincoln Highway when that facility opens, Phillips said. Although the arrangement isn't finalized, they are considering having the NIU officer join the four DeKalb officers in the Targeted Response Unit formed in September to tackle drug activity and street crimes.
NIU police joined the DeKalb County Major Case Squad – a special group of officers from several local law enforcement agencies who investigate major crimes and train together – in December, but Phillips also wants his officers to get involved with the Illinois Emergency Alarm System, a statewide program.
As Phillips continues to develop his community policing proposals, DeKalb Mayor John Rey complimented the increased cooperation between NIU and DeKalb police. Several students told leaders they appreciated their increased presence during homecoming weekend, Rey said.
As far as the perception of crime, Rey said DeKalb's northwest section, which is near NIU, remains one of the busier areas for police, although not because of NIU students. Rather, people from outside DeKalb tend to come to that area to commit crimes or find themselves embroiled in criminal activity after attending social gatherings there, Rey said.
DeKalb police are focusing patrols on the areas with the most emergency calls and criminal activities, so Rey expects police will continue to focus on the northwest section until the data changes. But he hopes people who live outside DeKalb notice these new policies.
"I would hope that the atmosphere has improved," Rey said.
Illinois university crime statistics for 2012
University Enrollment Violent Crime Forcible Rape Robbery Aggravated Assault
U of I 44,407 12 3 6 3
UIC 28,091 152 9 4
NIU 22,990 145 2 7
ISU 21,310 181 2 13
SIU-Carbondale 19,81726 612 8
Loyola University 16,04014 9 14 0
Western Illinois 12,554 12 16 0 3
Source: FBI's Uniform Crime Report