Fun locales are tourism cops’ beat in Gurnee
By Frank Abderholden firstname.lastname@example.org August 24, 2012 7:58PM
Gurnee Police Officers Carol McClanathan (left), Jason Kalinowski, Philip Mazur and Sgt. David Farrow walk the grounds at Six Flags Great America as part of the Visitor Orientated Policing Unit. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 24, 2012 1:54AM
GURNEE — The tourist draw — between Six Flags Great America, Gurnee Mills, KeyLime Cove and hotels can easily swell the village’s population of 35,000.
Which is why police in July created the Visitor Orientated Policing unit aimed at tourism.
“This was an idea the chief (Kevin Woodside) has had for awhile,” said Sgt. David Farrow, noting that tourists visiting Gurnee “can easily double or triple our population.”
Creating the new unit was revenue neutral, Farrow pointed out.
“It’s just the management of our (present) resources. We pulled guys from here and there and created this new unit,” he said, noting that school resource officers, D.A.R.E. officers and the K-9 unit were assigned to the new unit.
“The VOP unit complements our community-oriented policing philosophy by re-allocating a group of officers to areas that attract a large number of visitors to the village,” Police Chief Kevin Woodside said.
Farrow said Six Flags can have 30,000 to 40,000 visitors and Gurnee Mills can be between 10,000 to 15,000 shoppers.
In July, Gurnee Mills had 236 calls for service and the amusement park had 535 calls for service, which can be everything from an accident in the parking lot to retail theft to a fight.
“We try to take everything and anything we can to take pressure off the patrol shift,” said Farrow. “It allows the patrol shift to work the neighborhoods more.” Schools are also concentrated on when school is in session.
The number of officers in the unit can change day to day and they usually work a 12-hour shift, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., roughly the hours of the two biggest attractions in town — the shopping center and amusement park. The hours can also change, depending on what type of events are occurring or peak visitor times.
Woodside said the extra officers were used recently for Gurnee Days.
“The VOP unit is ideal for maximizing our presence in and around the schools during the academic year, retail areas during the peak holiday shopping season and the theme park in the summer,” he said. “It gives us more flexibility to adjust to the natural rhythm of the community throughout the year.”
There’s at least one and as many as five officers working the unit and part of their mission is deterrence.
“We like the extra manpower to quell any problems before they happen,” said Farrow. The unit makes a point to be seen at the various venues and they also work closely with security staff at Six Flags and KeyLime Cove, the indoor water park. “We need to work closely with security.”
At Six Flags, which contracts out 400 hours a month of patrol services from the police department already, the main thing they have to contend with is theft. Car burglaries are actually pretty low this year.
“A family goes out to the water park (Hurricane Harbor) and leaves their belongings at their chair and when they come back it’s gone. Somebody goes on a roller coaster and sets their things to the side and when they come back it’s gone,” said Farrow.
Fights are not a big issue, although during the early summer heat wave there were some instances police considered heat related. Having a visible presence can usually keep the lid on things. When the Batman “Dark Knight Rising” movie was released, after the Aurora, Colo., shootings, they had four police officers at the cinema at Gurnee Mills.
And if things are slow, they use the extra manpower to get back into the neighborhoods. Police officers in the unit recently uncovered information that led to a search warrant and that led to the seizure of about three pounds of marijuana.
But the visitors are a priority.
“We want to make them feel secure. We want them to have a good time and we want them to enjoy themselves,” Farrow said.