Russ Idle became Galesburg police chief in 2019. One of his top priorities then was to develop more police outreach and communication with residents.
The effort initially stalled due to the pandemic. Now, with COVID-19 vaccines widely available, Idle said it’s time to try again to kickstart the communication initiative. He’s named it the Chief’s Corner.
TSPR talked to Idle about the initiative.
What major concerns would you like to discuss with the public?
The Chief’s Corner is intended to be an outreach to develop communication and trust in the community. It’s not about any one topic or set of topics. It’s more about developing relationships and having conversations. But we’ve had some uptick in violent crime in Galesburg. Nationwide, the relationship between policing and some of our underserved communities has been strained. Person-to-person contact and showing people that we’re all the same is a way to combat that. [The Chief’s Corner] is a much larger idea than just specific items.
Is Galesburg’s Chief’s Corner following a model that’s been used in other communities?
It’s similar to “Coffee with a Cop.” It’s not at all unusual for police chiefs to get out in the community and make themselves available to their citizens. This isn’t necessarily a new idea. We might be doing it just a little differently. It might have a different name. It’s just the idea of getting out and making yourself available so people can come and talk.
How do you know the Chief’s Corner will lead to positive outcomes?
Every time you have a successful conversation, I would measure that almost person by person. If someone comes to me who is concerned or has questions or feels uneasy around the police and their situation is a little better when they leave, then that’s a success. I don’t know that it’s something you measure on a grand scale. I think it’s person by person, day by day. It’s a journey more than it is a project with an end. I don’t think there is an end. It’s an ongoing goal.
From a policing perspective, what is Galesburg’s biggest issue right now?
There’s been an increase in violent crime across the entire country and we haven’t been immune to that. I tell people I can’t control what goes on in the whole country and it’s not my job. My concern is to worry about the citizens of Galesburg, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to do the things I can to keep the violence and threats to safety down here. Developing relationships with the public to help us in that goal is one piece of that puzzle.
Would you say violent crime is our major concern right now, or is it drugs or something else?
A lot of these things are interconnected. The violence and drugs are definitely interrelated. We can’t separate those two issues. We’re not insulated from the things you see throughout the nation with regards to relationships and trust between police and the community. Maybe there’s a national event promoted by the media. We’re not insulated from it. It’s something for us to be aware of. We have a responsibility to be part of the solution. Those two things are always on the top of my agenda, along with many other issues.
In various cities around the country, distrust of the police is a problem. Is Galesburg experiencing the same?
It certainly exists. There’s no denying that. It exists everywhere and it exists here. There are members of our community who, when they see a police officer, instead of feeling safe and secure, feel anxiety and fear. And that’s not okay. That’s not what we want. I want everyone— when they see a police car drive by—to feel better and safer about their situation. We have a role to play in making that happen. One of the key ways to do that is to look people in the eye and talk to them and make sure people realize we put our pants on the same way as everyone else. We’re members of this community. We’re truly, sincerely here to try to help.
What can the average Galesburg resident do today to reduce criminal problems in the community?
The main message I want to communicate is that this is a joint effort. The police cannot do this alone. We need the help of the community. How do you help? Participate. When you see something, say something. I know it can be scary and intimidating but we can't do this alone, and we need the help of the community to get these bad actors into custody and return us to a more tranquil time.
Chief Idle encouraged Galesburg residents to attend the casual Chief’s Corner meetings. Locations, times, and dates will vary in an attempt to reach the whole community. Idle says the most up-to-date information can be found on the Galesburg Police Department’s Facebook page.
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