Forest Preserves of Cook County police have two roles. They are sworn officers, ready to protect visitors and enforce public safety. With specialized training in ecology from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, they are also ambassadors to the public and perform conservation roles like checking for fishing licenses and helping to protect the habitat and wildlife in our care, including rare and endangered species.
Inspired by this year’s unprecedented attention across the country to how law enforcement is enacted, the Forest Preserves has taken several new steps in our ongoing efforts to ensure our police are the best force possible.
In October, the Forest Preserves Board of Commissioners approved a resolution of support for the Ten Shared Principles, an initiative of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois NAACP to guide the relationship between law enforcement and the community of people they serve. Supporting and endorsing these principles is an important statement of the Forest Preserves’ values and intent, particularly around issues of racial equity.
This fall, we also began a “model policing” effort, a ground-up review of how our police department operates, its relationship with the public, and opportunities to incorporate national best practices both internally and in the field.
With their role as a kind of park ranger—including regular interaction with the public and foot and bike patrols on trails—Forest Preserves officers already perform a version of community policing. Yet, two years ago, the Forest Preserves received a wake-up call that we need to do more when one of our police officers failed to protect a young woman during a racist incident at Caldwell Woods.
Since then, we have made racial equity a priority across all Forest Preserves departments, including a staff cultural awareness forum, implicit bias training and rolling out body-worn cameras for police. The Ten Shared Principles and the model police initiative are not a response to any new incident or concern. They continue our commitment to examine and improve how we welcome everyone who comes to the preserves and ensure their safety during the visit.