Morton Grove Park Police uphold community’s right to relax
Park District Police Officer Ed Panko poses in front of his patrol car at Harrer Park on July 28 in Morton Grove. | Jon Durr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 3, 2012 12:38PM
MORTON GROVE — Norm Stromberg routinely roams the hallways and field grounds of the Morton Grove Park District with multiple motives in mind: to check that utilities are working, that events are running smoothly and, most importantly, that park patrons and staff are safe and sound.
Stromberg has worked in the village for nearly three decades, first as an emergency dispatcher and later as a police officer, and then sergeant with the Morton Grove Police Department.
He now oversees a small force of part-time, state-certified officers who comprise the Park District Police Force.
“It’s like any police work, just on a smaller basis,” Stromberg said.
The Park District formed its police force in the 1960s after calling upon off-duty village police officers for park supervision.
Today, the main objective of the Park Police — which has an annual budget of about $100,000 — is to be the eyes, ears and a friendly face of safety for the Park District.
Brian Sullivan, executive director of the Morton Grove Park District, said police provide another perspective for ways to streamline operations and provide a good experience for patrons, such effectively controlling and moving crowds along during large events.
As part of the Park District’s administrative team Stromberg assists in planning for the parks’ activities and events through a lens of public safety.
He and his officers help improve the community’s perception of the Park District’s ability to host fun, well-organized events, ultimately increasing participation, Sullivan said.
“When you’re coming for leisure and recreation, you’re not supposed to think about that. That’s our job,” he said. “People who have a good experience, they’re coming back.”
Sullivan said Park Police serve the Park District in three distinct ways: being available to respond to and control any contingency or emergency on park grounds; providing information about park facilities to help maintain the district’s high standards; and strengthening relationships with constituents and the community at large.
He said internal reports and public commentary demonstrate that patrons find the Park District’s facilities safe and attractive.
“Having our Park Police available, visible and active is a key component of that success,” Sullivan said.
On a typical day officers will patrol Park District grounds to do building checks and to visit different areas of activity to ensure staff and patrons are safe.
They also make sure the parks are empty after dark and that employees who leave at dusk return to their cars without problem.
The Park Police also complement the operations of the village’s police force. Stromberg’s officers can step in and assist the Morton Grove Police Department if necessary, but will let village officers take the lead on large matters, similar to how federal and local authorities relate to one another.
Park Police have the ability to issue citations, and work in conjunction with Morton Grove police to make arrests, Sullivan explained.
Most of the time, though, the cops intend to be approachable figures of public safety and represent the Park District at various community functions.
This summer the Park Police created an incentive program for children to encourage smart and safe habits. Officers are distributing “safety cards” on different topics. Any youth who collects at least five of the cards and completes a “Park Safety Form” will receive a special reward from the Park District.
Stromberg sees the program as a positive method of interaction between officers and people at the park.
For example an officer who approaches a crying child with an injured leg on the playground could offer a safety card and, thus, some solace, he said.
Usually that’s all it takes for the child to feel better.
“You turn the situation on them and it’s a beautiful thing,” Stromberg said. “It’s a nice tool for the park environment.”