The Citizen Police Academy is a 10-week course for residents of Forest Park, designed to foster collaboration between police and the residents they serve and protect. The first session is scheduled for tomorrow, Jan. 19, at 6:30 p.m. in the basement council chambers of village hall.
Lt. Nick Petrovic, who coordinates the series, said that in order to promote collaboration, presenters from the Forest Park Police Department (FPPD) will provide glimpses into how law enforcement works here, dispel false information, and perhaps most importantly, give 20-30 participants opportunities to experience cops as human beings. That includes the fourth session on “the use of force,” led by Sgt. Nick Defors on Feb. 9.
Lt. Petrovic noted, “In my almost 25 years as a police officer I’ve never been involved in a shooting, never used my firearm — and I never want to get involved in stuff like that because even if you’re justified 100% in the use of lethal force, it’s something you have to live with for the rest of your life — 99% of police officers don’t want to get involved in a shooting.”
Petrovic explained that action is always faster than reaction. For example, he said, “if I make a traffic stop for, say, a nonfunctioning tail light, I don’t know if the person driving is an ordinary citizen or a person who has just murdered someone and will do anything to avoid being taken into custody.
“If his hand is in his pocket, I don’t know if he’s holding a gun or looking for his driver’s license. If he intends to shoot at me, he will probably get the first shot off before I can react.”
That’s why regular training is so important, he says. “As our society has become more violent — and the scrutiny on police officers more pervasive — the need for judgmental firearms training has become more crucial.”
To that end, the seventh session will be an introduction to the FATS (Firearms Training System) machine. According to Petrovic, it’s almost like a video game. On screen a scene is played out and the officer in training has a digital handgun. At some point the person in the scene exhibits movement that could be interpreted as threatening the life of the officer — or it could be totally innocent.
And in that role playing exercise, the officers must decide whether or not to shoot. If they take too long to decide, they are virtually dead. If they shoot and the person is unarmed, they’ve just virtually killed an innocent person.
Even though he knows that it’s a “game,” he said, his heart rate goes through the ceiling.
When police shoot a suspect, the village may be liable to legal problems. A Review article in December of 2021 stated, “The estate of a Glendale Heights man shot and killed by a Forest Park police officer in 2017 will receive nearly $600,000 from the village’s insurer in exchange for dropping a blistering federal civil rights lawsuit that accused the village of, among other things, maintaining an environment that ‘encouraged the extrajudicial shooting of civilians.’
“In the written settlement, the village makes no admission of guilt and “continue[s] to deny any and all fault, wrongdoing or liability,” and that the decision to pay out $599,900 was made “merely to avoid the expenses and burden of further litigation in this matter.”
In that same session, he added, Sgt. Defors will also outline the sexual harassment training FPPD officers receive every year.
For the presentation on fingerprinting, Lt. Petrovic said a participant will be invited to put their finger on a surface, then given a duster with magnetic ink to “dust” it, then see how the fingerprint “pops.”
In a real crime scene investigation, he noted, the ink will be pulled off, affixed to a white card and sent to a crime lab which can take a couple of weeks to a couple of months to process.
In the second session on Jan. 26, Officer Mike O’Connor will give pointers on how residents can prevent residential crime.
The incomplete schedule includes:
Jan. 19 Introduction by Chief
Ken Gross and Lt. Petrovic
Jan. 26 Residential Crime
Feb. 2 Patrol Operations
Feb. 9 Use of Force
Feb. 16 Major Crash Investigations
Feb. 23 DUI Enforcement
March 2 FATS Machine
March 9 E.T. Workshop
To register for the Academy call Lt. Petrovic at 708-615-6226 or email him at NPetrovic@forestpark.net.
Trends in crime
Catalytic Converters: Criminals cut them out of cars and sell the precious metals used to make them. “Often they are armed,” said Lt. Petrovic, “so don’t interfere. Call 911.”
Rowdy Funeral Processions: When the weather gets warmer, rowdy funeral processions become “tricky.” When the funeral is for a gang member, four officers try to control up to 60 cars with passengers sometimes waving guns out the windows.
Package Thefts: Packages left on the porch are being stolen. Some criminals even follow delivery trucks and watch for when packages are left outside.
Tax Return Checks: Soon criminals will be stealing tax return checks. Recently a mail carrier was assaulted and had her key to access mail deposit boxes stolen. “If there is a way to make money,” Petrovic commented, “some people will do it if they are desperate enough.”
Hyundai and Kia cars: Criminals have found a way to start these vehicles without a key. Petrovic advises owners to install a club on the steering wheel, so even if criminals start the engine, they won’t be to steer the vehicle.