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Park Forest
Monday, May 23, 2022

Chief Paul Winfrey Assumes Command

police chief Paul Winfrey in uniform against a blue background
Paul Winfrey is the 13th Police Chief of the Village of Park Forest (VOPF photo)

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Paul Winfrey was sworn in as Park Forest’s thirteenth chief of police at the village board meeting on Monday, April 4, replacing the previous Chief, Christopher Mannino, who retired.

Chief Winfrey is a 24-year veteran of the Park Forest Police Department. His career in the village has seen him climb through the ranks as a patrol officer, canine handler, field training officer, detective, corporal, and deputy chief. He began his law enforcement career as an officer in Sycamore, Illinois.

While the Chief did not grow up in the village, he spent a lot of time at the home of his grandparents in the West Lincolnwood neighborhood of Park Forest. His mother attended St. Irenaeus grade school and what was then called Rich Township High School. She is still a Park Forest resident. Winfrey and his wife, Guadalupe, will celebrate their 27th anniversary this year and have two children. His son is finishing a criminal justice degree and is planning for a career in law enforcement.

police chief Paul Winfrey taking the oath of office
Paul Winfrey is sworn in as the new police chief by Park Forest Village Manager Tom Mick on April 4. (Park Forest Police Department photo)

As a member of the department, Winfrey worked with Rich East High School for 13 years, ten as the police liaison. He believes that the closure of Rich East had a significant negative impact on the relationship between the police and the teenage population of the village. The ability to interact with students each day in school made the police more approachable and paid dividends outside of the classroom as well. Winfrey views the possibility that the Rich East campus might become a vocational career center as a terrific addition to the village and south suburban region.

The Chief is also on the Park Forest School District 163 Safety Committee, helping to develop crisis plans, conduct safety drills, and assist with other safety and security-related issues. One of his goals as Chief is to develop a stronger relationship with the district, similar to what was in place at Rich East. He believes it is important to create a positive impression of the police at an early age.

Winfrey acknowledged that the national dialogue on excessive law enforcement following the George Floyd incident, combined with the COVID pandemic, has made the past two years difficult. He believes, however, that the department came through that period very well because of the support received from the community, as well as from the village administration.

The Chief believes that police officers need to be held to a higher standard, but sometimes the perception is that they fail to live up to that goal. He notes that many of the items contained in recent reform bills have been in place in Park Forest for years, such as body cameras, use of force training, de-escalation training, and crisis intervention team training. He agrees that police reform was needed, and continues to be needed, but feels it was sometimes done in a manner that went too far, too quickly.

Winfrey agreed that, to a degree, the interaction between officers and the public has become more tense and confrontational over the past few years, but those interactions are typically with non-Park Forest residents who come from communities that do not have the same positive relationship with their police officers.

Chief of Police Paul Winfrey, Sergeant Meghan Vold, and Deputy Chief John DeCeault with colleagues, friends, and family members.
Chief of Police Paul Winfrey, Sergeant Meghan Vold, and Deputy Chief John DeCeault with colleagues, friends, and family members prior to them taking the oath of office April 4. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

Winfrey counsels his officers to treat every interaction with residents like they would want their family members treated by law enforcement. Similarly, when it comes to traffic violations, his guidance is to treat every street as if they lived on it. If they see someone speeding or rolling through a stop sign, they should make the stop and issue citations or warnings as appropriate.

He acknowledged that there may have been a reduction in the level of proactive policing, such as traffic enforcement, during the past two years in the village and elsewhere. It was necessary, he said, to minimize non-critical personal interactions during the pandemic, but any egregious behavior and calls for assistance were, and still are, always addressed immediately.

Restoration of proactive policing comparable to what was in place prior to the pandemic is a work in progress. Winfrey noted that there has been a huge increase in the number of traffic violations occurring. A recent tweet by the department reported that, during one weekend, the department made almost thirty traffic stops, arrested two intoxicated drivers, and one of them drove 106 mph in a 40-mph zone. A recent grant to the department enabled it to purchase a speed sign that provides data on the number of cars exceeding the limit, which then allows the department to focus its enforcement actions.

During his career with the department, Winfrey said that the tools utilized by police, such as body cameras, radios, and computers may have changed, but the underlying job of the police has not. “It’s taking care of people and stopping and preventing crime.”

He does acknowledge, however, that there have been changes in police behavior. “The days of ‘I am the police, and you are going to do this because I told you to’ are long gone. And I am glad they are long gone.”

According to Winfrey, five new officers will join the force in May, including two female officers and three officers of color. This will bring the department back to its authorized level of forty-one officers. This staffing level has remained relatively constant since Winfrey joined the force, but he notes that the volume of calls has increased as have reports of more serious incidents, such as shots fired or domestic battery. By their nature, these incidents take longer to process which results in fewer officers being able to respond to other reports.

For the past several years, the department has participated in the Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) program that assigns officers to specific neighborhoods in the village to assist in the resolution of quality-of-life issues. Because of recent staffing changes, there was a need to reassign some officers to other neighborhoods. Winfrey noted that residents can find their assigned POP officer by consulting the POP Neighborhood Map found on the village website.

The Chief believes that the POP program is underutilized and could be used to better enhance the interaction and communication with the police and address issues that do not require an immediate police response. Efforts will be forthcoming to explain the benefits of the program to residents and how they can connect with their POP officers.

Under the direction of former Chief Mannino, the department was a leader in the use of social media to help keep the community abreast of the news. Winfrey says this approach will continue on his watch and has a social media team in place to provide updates on Facebook, Twitter, Nextdoor, and other platforms.

Similarly, the Chief noted that the community involvement activities, including Coffee with a Cop and pop-up events such as the one held in the Eastgate neighborhood last year, will continue. In fact, plans are underway to have two pop-up events this year.

When asked if he had any message for the community as he takes command, Winfrey focused on the resolution of quality-of-life issues and made a request to residents to let the police know of their concerns. “Call even if you think it’s nothing, rather than not call and have it turn into something.”

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