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Park Police: Celebrating 50 Years of Service

Naperville Park District Police are celebrating 50 years of service to the Naperville community. Naperville Park District will recognize the 50th anniversary at 6:30 p.m. at the August 27, 2020 Board of Commissioners meeting at Fort Hill Activity Center, located at 20 Fort Hill Drive.

 A news report by Naperville Community Television tells their story with photos and an interview with Executive Director Ray McGury, Park Police Lt. Mike Harrington and Park Police Chief Steve Schindlbeck. 

Naperville Park District was voted into existence by a referendum in December 1966 and began operations in 1968. Just two years later, the board of commissioners voted to create the Park Police by approving Ordinance 21 on April 30, 1970.  The original purpose of the Park Police was to protect Park District property, enforce Park District ordinances and keep the peace. The current Ordinance 641 expands the purpose to include ensuring the welfare of park users and employees, and life and property within the District.
Park Police started small, with only four sworn officers in 1970. As the Park District acquired more land and developed parks throughout the community, the number of officers has increased to approximately 25 today. Most officers serve part time for the District while holding other full-time jobs.

Bill Young was the first Chief of Park Police

How is the Park Police role different from that of the City of Naperville Police? 
As Lt. Mike Harrington said, “The community values its parks. They wanted to put Park Police in place so that people could enjoy the parks and feel safe there. Our focus is on quality of life in the parks. Most of the time, it’s just educational. We just solve problems.”

Executive Director Ray McGury pointed out that the Park District has over 2,400 acres of territory to cover, including miles of trails. The City Police Department does not have the resources to go out on trails and patrol our 136 parks.

Reflecting on the past 50 years, Ray McGury cited the culture of partnership and camaraderie between the community and the Park Police as an aspect that has its roots in the lasting example and training provided by the Park Police’s first chief, Bill Young. Mike Harrington remembers that Bill Young worked closely with former Mayor Pradel to establish the Park Police in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time, Pradel was not yet mayor but a police officer for the City of Naperville Police and was known as Officer Friendly.  

Former Mayor George Pradel and Former Park Police Chief Bill Young

As the Park Police grew with the community, Mike Harrington observed that the principles of customer service established by Bill Young were passed on to new officers. Lt. Harrington, who has been with the Park Police for 29 years, is proud to continue that training.

Lt. Mike Harrington, Former Chief Bill Young and Lt. Scott Wehrli

The new Park Police Chief, Steve Schindlbeck, who served for 29 years with the Naperville City Police, appreciates the level of professionalism that the Park Police developed, particularly in recent years, in handling large special events. He worked hand in hand with the Park Police for events like Ribfest, where the Park Police training in emergency management helped the events run smoothly.

 Park Police Officers Jim and Jamie Goschey at Ribfest

In 2020, Park Police were called on to facilitate peaceful protests in the parks, and were able to prepare for those events by working closely with the organizers and City Police. Lt. Mike Harrington was pleasantly surprised about how one of the protests went. “It turned out to be a great dialog. People asked questions. It didn’t feel adversarial. They got to see us as individuals, just like all of us.” 

Other Park Police accomplishments, including trail safety initiatives and support of Special Olympics and Toys for Tots, are described in a recent blog post honoring former Park Police Chief Carl Schnibben who retired in April 2020. Additionally, the life-saving actions of Officers David White and Patrick Knudtson have been recognized publicly. 

 Former Park Police Chief Carl Schnibben, Scholarship winner Katharine Marshall, Detective Jamie Goshey and Officer David White, 2019.

Looking toward the Future
Chief Schindlbeck anticipates that once the coronavirus is behind us, Naperville’s special events will come back even stronger and that Park Police once again will assist in delivering high quality events for the community. Lt. Harrington looks forward to bringing on new officers who will invest in the quality of the department while continuing to develop the current group of officers. “The best resources I have are the officers working here,” said Chief Schindlbeck. “I’m constantly reaching out to them, asking what works and what could we do differently. They appreciate that their opinions are being counted.  It’s a team approach.”

Lt. Scott Wehrli, Chief Steve Schindlbeck, Lt. Mike Harrington, June 2020

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