By Dan Campana
After nearly 18 years with the Palatine Police Department, Officer Steve Rago knows his town.
Almost two decades into his law enforcement career, he also understands the strength of connecting with residents and citizens at a time when the importance of such relationship building can’t be understated.
That’s why Rago – a graduate of Western Illinois University, the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy and one-time Roselle police officer – walks a beat for his northwest suburban department.
In the latest TTN Quick Hits Q&A, Rago talks about foot patrols, community engagement and his encounter with a social media savvy pup.
Ten Two News: What was your first thought when you learned you’d be working a foot patrol?
Rago: I thought it was a good idea. I volunteer to do the foot patrols, as do many other officers.
TTN: Although walking a beat is considered old school, why do you think it works in today’s environment?
Rago: Anything that makes an officer accessible to the public is going to be positive. The reasons are simple. Information gathering is an integral part of an officer’s job. The residents of the community have information about the community they live in. They just need an opportunity to provide it to someone who will take the time to listen. Foot patrols offer that opportunity. We all know the traditional police-related reasons for gathering information: solving crimes, deterring problems and settling disputes. However, the added benefit of having an officer walking a beat makes that officer accessible to the public, where police can build relationships and strengthen partnerships in the community. The Palatine Police Department operates under the Neighborhood Based Policing Philosophy of getting officers out into permanently assigned beats, to not only know the troublemakers, but also get to know the majority in the community who actually support the police and what they do.
TTN: What’s your favorite foot patrol story or experience?
Rago: While conducting foot patrol in the downtown business district, I met a resident who was walking her French bulldog named Hurley. The resident proceeds to tell me about Hurley having his own social media following and asked if I would be willing to pose with Hurley for his page. The encounter proved to be very positive for police-community relations. Two weeks later, the woman, her boyfriend and Hurley approached me at a local festival as if we were old friends. I could have shared some other story about a proactive enforcement initiative, which led to solving some problems in the beat, but the positive encounter with Hurley and his parents makes me appreciate what we do as police and look back and reflect on the reasons I got into law enforcement.
TTN: Why do you think foot patrol makes sense for a community like Palatine?
Rago: I think foot patrols make sense in Palatine because we have a vibrant downtown area with a number of restaurants and bars full of people enjoying themselves, especially during the weekends. Palatine sits along a main railroad route (serving) a number of communities including the city of Chicago. The railroad provides easy accessibility for many who choose to visit a large community like Palatine, which boasts that small town atmosphere. I believe witnessing a police officer just walking and talking with residents, business owners and patrons in a non-threatening environment sends a positive message about the community and the police department. It also creates a positive environment for the officer, which I really appreciate these days – especially with all the negativity against the law enforcement profession. Any time you can bring the public and police together under positive conditions, it provides an opportunity for people to talk face-to-face in a non-threatening environment where relationships can be forged and friendships can be made.
TTN: What’s the best part about spending some time outside of a squad car?
Rago: Meeting the people, having the feeling that I am still making a positive difference and soaking up some sunshine!