DeKALB — The DeKalb Police Department has created a Community Relations Team to strengthen ties with residents and reduce crime in the city, according to a press release from the DeKalb Police Department.
The team consists of six officers, one Sergeant and two members of the command staff who will all work together on different community relations initiatives.
Most of the initiatives were already being conducted, but team members will engage in a more coordinated effort to address the community’s needs, according to the release.
“When combined with our philosophy of proactive and problem-oriented policing, these community engagement efforts should lead to a reduction of crime in our community, while at the same time, increasing public trust which is crucial to the mission of our organization,” the statement reads.
Last month a community meeting was held where residents voiced the fears they had involving the DeKalb Police Department after a viral video of an officer arresting Elonte McDowell.
Interim Police Chief John Petragallo said over the last five years, the department had one officer who handled everything the team currently does. Due to staffing issues, the full-time position was pulled, he said.
Petragallo said the team benefits the community in a way that addresses residents’ concerns one-on-one with department officials.
“When I became interim police chief in June, I knew I wanted to fill that position and the best idea was to create a team,” Petragallo said. “We had several people who were interested in joining and now we have a diverse team of officers who work different shifts and can cover more ground.”
Members of the Community Relations Team include Interim Chief John Petragallo, Commander Steve Lekkas, Sergeant Chad McNett, Officers Jonathan Bell, Joshua Boldt, Tony Densberger, Sebastian Lemus, Danielle Sorenson and Detectives Sonny Streit and Kelly Sullivan.
The team’s primary duties are to create crime prevention strategies and safety efforts through community awareness campaigns and safety assessments. This will include an effort to identify underlying problems that the police department can address in order to reduce crime, enhance relationships and foster trust, according to the release.
The teams will also program community events, present public presentations, problem-solve through non-traditional policing methods and coordinate special events such as Heroes and Helpers or National Night Out.
Lekkas said the team is perfect for student organizations who want to have an officer speak or provide information about the department at an organization meeting. He encourages students to call team members because it’s the exact opportunity the department is looking for.
“The reason we started [the community relations team] was to formalize a lot of the events that we already do,” Lekkas said. “That way we have a lot of people working in tandem to get a lot of these events accomplished. With working on crime issues and our proactive policing, we just don't want these things to go by the wayside.”