Know Your Officer brings Skokie police door to door
Skokie Police Officer Terrance Alexander knocks on a door on the 7700 block of Crawford Avenue as part of the new Know Your Officer program. Police plan on visiting every home in Skokie. | Tamara Bell~Sun Times Media
KNOW YOUR OFFICER
WHAT: New police program where an officer will go door-to-door to contact someone at every Skokie residence.
WHY: The program aims to collect emails for better and more targeted communication with police and to make people more comfortable with police.
NUMBERS: There are about 25,000 residences in Skokie and 5,000 door-to-door visits so far.
Updated: August 6, 2012 6:26AM
Skokie Police Officer Terrance Alexander took one house at a time, knocking on doors, ringing doorbells, waiting to introduce himself to whomever answered the door.
No one needed to worry though; there was no trouble brewing on the 7700 block of Crawford Avenue this late morning. These were friendly calls, all part of Skokie Police’s new initiative called Know Your Officer.
“If it’s done the right way and used right,” Alexander said, “I think it could be an excellent idea.”
Police Chief Tony Scarpelli came up with the ambitious program, patterned after Skokie’s Know Your Neighbor. That program asks Skokie residents to invite neighbors into their homes to get better acquainted.
Scarpelli wants his men and women to visit every Skokie home and introduce themselves, but there is another purpose to Know Your Officer as well.
The officer visiting homes collects email addresses to be able to better communicate with targeted sections of the community. For an alert or an emergency, Skokie potentially could notify people in a certain block or neighborhood through email.
“Our hope is to build a robust database so we can geographically communicate with each other,” he said.
There is no pressure, though, if people do not want to participate.
Alexander and others wonder whether it wouldn’t be more successful to gather email addresses through school open houses or some other means. The downside to knocking on doors during daytime hours is the potential for no one to be home.
When the Review tagged along for his recent run, more than 50 percent of homes he visited resulted in no answers. Alexander marked those down, which means someone will try again.
But collecting email addresses is just one part of the program. Having street officers meet people at their own homes is a throwback to neighborhood policing, which is a feeling Scarpelli wants to foster.
This was Alexander’s fourth time going out on a Know Your Officer run. If an important police matter came up, he said, he would be called away.
He’s had mixed responses when he has gone knocking.
“Many are OK with it, but you get a few where you hear them in the house and they’re not going to open up the door no matter what,” he said.
Like Know Your Neighbor, the program takes on more significance because of Skokie’s tremendous diversity. Alexander believes some of those not eager to answer the door face a language barrier or come from cultures where there is greater fear of authority.
“They may be coming in and thinking the police they know are not friendly,” Alexander said. “They’re not used to police knocking on the door, so they’re not going to answer it.”
That, in part though, is what this program aims to dispel. It shows police in a benevolent way, as a benefit to the community.
Alexander’s first Know Your Officer meeting during our tag-along was with Rammikel Bhatt, who did not speak English. But Bhatt was friendly, and he called his grandson from the house to speak to the officer.
The boy’s parents weren’t home, but the parents could call later, as Alexander left information.
Prudencio Dulay, who lives in a house across the street, welcomed Alexander’s call.
“This will be a positive thing,” he said. “You have the officer ringing the door so many people will come out. It’s good that he is here.”
Alexander encouraged Dulay to let people know about the program.
“You have to spread the word to your friends and family that we’re going to be knocking and ringing doorbells,” he said. “It’s nothing bad. We’re just trying to get emails and introduce ourselves.”
One person chose not to participate; Alexander left without making a fuss.
“It’s nice for the community to get together with police,” said Krunal Bodalia, a neighbor who responded positively to the officer.
Many people have responded positively to Alexander over the years.
He was well known in the Skokie community even before Know Your Officer. He served as a school resource officer at District 68 and was a DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer at local schools for years.
Walking down Crawford, he ran into Bryan Eastman, 22, and Jessica Loy, 18, who remembered him from East Prairie School.
Loy was in kindergarten when Alexander first came to East Prairie and Eastman in third grade.
“You still look the same, too,” Eastman said during the friendly exchange. “You haven’t aged at all.”
This is typical for the personable Alexander. He runs into people he knows all the time. He’s likely to run into many more because the program still has a ways to go.
Skokie has about 25,000 homes, and officers have contacted only 5,000 so far.
“We don’t have a deadline, only a goal,” Scarpelli said. “We want to reach everyone.”