For many people, budgets are a way of life—but for a police department, cost cutting could mean the difference in actually saving a life. Ever since the economy started to turn in 2008, law enforcement departments across the country have had to tighten their purse strings, eliminating special community programs and delaying the purchase of the most up-to-date equipment in order to remain financially viable day-to-day. The Lake Forest Police Department (LFPD) was no different, that is until Commander Rob Copeland had an idea for how to resurrect some of the important lost causes and move his operation forward.
Copeland had attended an annual International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference where he learned about starting a public-private partnership to fund initiatives outside the normal day-to-day budgetary items. With the approval of Chief of Police James Held and the City Manager in mid-2014, Copeland and his administrative partner, Records Clerk Kasey Morgan, got to work recruiting a five-member voluntary board of active community members and business leaders to help solicit private donations, 100 percent of which would be used to meet the mission of making the community and the police force “safer, stronger, together.”
With the recent one-year anniversary of the Lake Forest Police Foundation, Copeland and board members Terry Rozdolsky (president), Steven Esposito, Paul Burt, Rick Price, and Jay McAveeney are humbled that expectations have not only been met but have far surpassed what they had initially planned. “We have seen just an outpouring of funds,” admits Esposito who figures that the total contributions have topped $150,000, fueled mainly through phone and letter campaigns to friends and family; a first official fundraiser will be held in March 2016. “The generosity of people who live and work in Lake Forest has been overwhelming in how they have all come together in an effort to help,” he continues—and the payback has been rewarding for the community, too.
One of the first initiatives of the Foundation was paying for and updating all of the 9-year-old defibrillators in LFPD’s fleet of squad cars. “If it saves one life, it’s worth it.” Copeland says his officers fortunately have not had to use them yet, but they have put good use to new alternative light sources that better help technicians recover evidence in crime scenes as well as newly furbished Individual Officer Trauma Kits that offer military-grade pressure bandages and tourniquets that keep wounds under control. “We saw the benefits of the quick application of tourniquets to save lives during the Boston Marathon bombing, ” says Copeland.
Other uses of the Foundation funds have been for more sanguine purposes such as supporting the LFPD’s Bike Rodeo, held in May, where children can get proper helmet fittings and parents can make sure their seat height is correct. As well, money has been pumped into boosting the Citizen’s Police Academy (where Rozdolsky first met Copeland and began the conversation) and restarting previously offered women’s self defense classes. “We used some of the money to convert an old workout room at the station to a defensive tactics room,” says Rozdolsky, noting that the space is also used for supplementary police training. Also purchased were protective Blauer Tactical Training Suits (a cost of $7,000) that allow participants to enact scenarios without physically harming anyone. “With what’s going on in the world today, it’s important for people to know how to defend themselves,” says Esposito.
The Lake Forest Police Foundation has been instrumental in allowing the department to engage in current real-world scenarios like these, says Copeland, who is most excited about offering a new cyber safety program for middle school and high school students and their parents this fall. “We want to teach children how they can be safe online and also make sure parents know what they need to look out for and that they are knowledgeable of the latest programs and apps,” says the Commander. “With all the online bullying and sexting, it’s become a huge issue that we see all the time and we want this to be an educational platform.”
Lake Forest is one of the only police departments in the area to have such a unique funding mechanism (it’s most frequently seen in larger cities; New York was one of the first). Copeland only knows of Lincolnwood that has a similar program, but he has heard rumblings that Highland Park and Deerfield may be interested in starting up their own after seeing the success of the LFPF, which Esposito attributes to having a very active board. Copeland couldn’t agree more. “We want to get as many people as possible in our community involved so they can see what we do. A more informed community is a stronger community.”
For more information on the Lake Forest Police Foundation, or to donate, visit lakeforestpolicefoundation.org.
By Selena Fragassi // Photography by Robin Subar