ROCKFORD — Aldermen tonight agreed to create a new Rockford Police Department unit that will primarily patrol Rockford Housing Authority properties.
The RHA will pay the city about $950,000 a year for the salary and benefits of six officers and a sergeant. The new unit will be phased in and could be active in January as the Rockford Police Department hires seven additional officers and goes from a force of about 290 to 297.
Although some aldermen said they were concerned that staffing the unit would detract from police protection for the rest of the city, other aldermen pointed out that the police force is expanding with money provided by the RHA.
And Rockford Police Chief Dan O’Shea said although the officers will primarily be assigned to RHA properties, the officers will continue to serve as Rockford police officers who answer to police commanders and will respond to emergency calls off property as needed.
“I am hoping it builds community trust and engagement which is a top priority for my department in apartment complexes and high denisity housing where we have traditionally done a relatively poor job because we aren’t out walking around, we’re in cars,” O’Shea said.
Aldermen approved an initial two-year agreement with the RHA. It requires a 12-month notice for either side to back out which would allow the Rockford department to reduce staff through attrition to avoid additional costs.
Officers will patrol Fairgrounds Valley, Blackhawk Courts, Orton Keyes and North Main Manor among family RHA properties. It will not include the planned 49-unit affordable housing project to be built on South New Towne Drive.
Ald. Tom McNamara said the police department will benefit from intelligence that could be gathered by strengthening relationships between police and public housing residents.
Ald. Venita Hervey (D-5) said she supports the return of an RHA designated Rockford police unit. Hervey said too often the impoverished residents of the “poorly designed, dense” and “racially isolated units” are easy targets for people who prey on the poor.
“I’ve watched this victimization for too many years,” Hervey said.