RPD’s Community Service Officer program now in use

The Rochelle Police Department recently established and completed training for its Community Service Officer (CSO) program, RPD Chief Pete Pavia said Aug. 23.

‘It helps keep the patrol officers on the street, which is where they need to be’

ROCHELLE — The Rochelle Police Department recently established and completed training for its Community Service Officer (CSO) program, RPD Chief Pete Pavia said Aug. 23.

The department has hired two CSOs for the program. Pavia said the idea came about as RPD has dealt with staffing shortages due to a number of retirements and ongoing hiring during the past year. Pavia worked in a department that utilized CSOs in the past and said he’s seen them be beneficial. 

CSOs are non-sworn, civilian personnel. They will take care of tasks that RPD officers have been performing that be done by non-sworn personnel such as taking squad cars for maintenance, lost pet calls, debris in roadways, traffic control, non-injury accident reports, lockouts, taking reports to the state’s attorney’s office, and taking evidence to the crime lab. 

“Essentially, the CSOs are here to alleviate the full-time officers when they're busy,” Pavia said. “It's just all of those things that normally would tie an officer up. They're here for five days a week. I love the program. It's just taken off. Everyone is noticing them now on the street. It's a great program."

Qualifications to be a CSO are being at least 18 years old with a high school diploma. CSOs are trained by RPD field training officers with a modified version of the training sworn officers receive. 

“They don't go through as much training as a police officer would,” Pavia said. “We train them on all the things that they need to do. We train them for about three weeks with an officer on how to do everything. And then we have them on a shadow training program where they're out there by themselves, but if they were to get a call the officer arrives there with them and they work it together. And once they're good to go, they're just out there."

Pavia said the program will stay at two CSOs on a part-time basis for the time being as the department evaluates how it works. If the program succeeds, a full-time CSO program could be on the table, he said. It’s not common for towns of Rochelle’s size or towns in the area to have CSOs, but Pavia said since the program’s inception at RPD he’s heard from other agencies inquiring about CSOs. 

Both of RPD’s recently-hired CSOs have a desire to become full-time sworn police officers in the future, and Pavia said the CSO program is a “great way” to mentor them and get them started down the career path. Pavia said that could be a plus for RPD’s future hiring needs for police officers. 

“Hopefully we get them in here and going and then when the time comes and they're of age and they test, they already know the procedures of the police department and we have good candidates right out of the gate,” Pavia said. “That was kind of the idea of it. t I wanted someone who I can grow in my department in the future. One of the guys we hired wants to be a police officer in Rochelle. It's the perfect candidate. He'll learn everything he can and when he hits 20 and a half he can start testing with us. You get someone who has already been with us 3-4 years and he knows everything about it. It's an easy transition to send him to the academy and then we have a guy that's ready to go."

Ahead of the CSO program’s implementation, Pavia sat down with RPD command staff and talked about duties they could perform to help out sworn officers. 

“It's just a lot of things. I've seen CSO programs work before. When we all got together collectively, there were so many things they could do. Things like taking reports to the state's attorney's office or the crime lab where normally we'd have to send a sworn officer. It helps keep the patrol officers on the street, which is where they need to be. The program is just kicking off, but from everything we see, it's working perfectly.”

Meet the CSOs

Damen Harrington and Evan Dickson are RPD’s new community service officers. 

Harrington grew up in Rochelle and graduated from Rochelle Township High School this past year. He’s currently attending Kishwaukee College full-time. He took the CSO position because he wants to join the department as a patrol officer when he’s of age. 

“This is basically meant to mentor people into the field,” Harrington said. “I'd rather do this until I'm 21 and go from there. The CSO program has seemed like it's helped patrol a lot already, even though we just finished training this week. We've gone through traffic control for accidents on public roadways and private property accidents. We've gone to lost dog calls and we've found dogs and brought them to the vet so people can find them there. We help out wherever we can. It's had a big impact on the department."

Dickson is from Rockford and has worked in the public safety and security industry for almost six years. He’s held the rank of sergeant in security agencies and has worked in security for three healthcare systems including Rochelle Community Hospital. 

A future career in the law enforcement profession is Dickson’s hope as well. He feels working as a CSO is “a great stepping stone” to get there. 

“The experience has been great so far,” Dickson said. “We just got off training. To see the scope of our duties, I feel like it will provide for not only the department, but for the community as well. Officers were being tied up with calls that we can now handle. Hopefully it will free them up to attend more emergent calls a lot faster. And hopefully it will also give us the experience we need to be law enforcement officers in the future and help out the department and the community, and bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement. Because there can always be improvement.”