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Building a bridge between the community and law enforcement

KANKAKEE — Police lights and sirens filled the parking lot of Kankakee High School Monday evening as the district’s annual back-to-school event was in full swing. However, the hubbub was not a cause for alarm — rather a cause for learning.

Earlier this year, Kankakee United and the Kankakee Police Department — in conjunction with Illinois Coalition for Community Services (ICCS) and Youth For Christ’s City Life Center — started a program that brought attention to the relationship between the community and law enforcement.

The Police Stops program allows local citizens to step into the shoes of a law enforcement officer during a traffic stop. In these mock police stops, citizens go through the process of an officer.

The idea was developed by ICCS field representative Rhonda Currie, City Life Center director Aaron Clark, and Kankakee Police Commander of Investigations Donnell Austin. The latter said that they’ve received “nothing but positive feedback” since starting the program in May.

“With the stops, we kind of allow each person to put themselves in the perspective of a police officer,” said Austin. “Traffic stops are calls we handle on a regular basis that can be dangerous.”

Austin said it’s very common for someone being pulled over to become anxious. He said that this program is to help ease those anxieties. Additionally, he said that the things officers recommend to citizens being pulled over are that they remain calm, courteous and compliant and that they should not lie.

During Monday’s event, the program was geared toward youth as local students were invited to experience the program.

KPD officers took turns driving the vehicle being pulled over — and playing the role of a citizen — and driving the police cars and giving their young partners tips for what to say to the individual being pulled over.

“We want them to get kind of a bird’s-eye view, in 10 to 15 minutes, of what we go through in a day-to-day operation,” said officer Jose Diaz, who was one of the participating law enforcement members.

Each participant wore a police vest and belt to deepen the officer experience. Some youth went through the process of giving their citizen a verbal warning and some got to dig a bit deeper.

“I liked handcuffing the person,” said Isauria Rios-Richey, 11. Her brother, Izayah Richey, 12, liked using the siren.

When asked what the most important task of a police officer is, Izayah said “to keep everyone safe.” Isauria agreed by saying that officers “protect their town or their city.”

Sofia Alvarado, of Kankakee, had participated in a program earlier this year and brought her children Mariel Camargo, a high school senior, and Humberto Camargo, a college freshman, to experience it for themselves.

“Since [my kids] got their driver’s licenses not too long ago, I wanted them to know what to do if or when the police stops one of them,” said Alvarado.

Humberto said he was looking forward to “learning what to do and what not to do.”

“I also want to stay calm during that situation because, maybe without this, I would be really nervous and kind of scared if I’m ever to be stopped,” he said.

Mariel agreed that learning what to do and how to stay calm was a motivator for participating in the event.

The siblings then got the chance to step into the officers’ shoes and see from their perspective how the experience can go.

“I learned a lot of information,” Mariel said after the fact. “[The officer] told me about what to look for in the person that you’re pulling over and things like that.

“I think it was a very useful experience for in the future if I were to get pulled over,” she concluded.

After hosting a number of events throughout the county — from Kankakee Community College to Olivet Nazarene University to National Night Out — KPD Commander Austin looks forward to watching it continue to grow. At the end of the day, the purpose is to create a bridge between citizens and local law enforcement.

“Sometimes if you just have a conversation with people, it helps bring down the anxiety,” he said.

Board still priortizing needs for rescue plan monies

The Kankakee County Board is still working through its process of prioritizing areas of government and public programs that might receive a portion of its $21.3 million in federal money allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The board’s committee of the whole met Monday afternoon in the county administration building to continue with that process as part of what it has named KCR3 — Kankakee County Respond, Revitalize, Reinvest. The process was approved by the committee.

“One of the department heads indicated to me that we need to take care of home first, prioritizing the administration’s requests,” board member Steven Hunter said.

Hunter added some departments have dire needs.

Board Chairman Andy Wheeler said one department’s dire is another department’s wish.

“That will be [the board’s] decision when we do it as a group,” he said.

Some requests have already been approved by the county board, including new voting machines for county elections and new squad cars for the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Department. Those requests went through the subcommittees, the finance committee and the full county board. That process will continue.

“There’s a COVID reason for what we have to do as far as getting bids on certain things,” Wheeler said. “What type of documentation we need from each one, and I’ve done that all the way through the business request that we’ve got in and for the not-for-profits. My goal is to have that at the next finance committee meeting on Wednesday which is going to be excessively long.

“We’ll call these people in that we can, maybe if there was 20, then we may get 10 people. We’ll start going through them.”

Wheeler reiterated that all the requests will go through the finance committee and then the full board for approval. The monthly finance committee meeting will now serve as the next phase in the process as one committee meeting, instead of the previous six sub-committee meetings that had met the past several Mondays.

“Nobody is left out of the process,” he said.


The Board is also looking for a management program design partner that will help the county go through all the requests for the various social programs that can be funded. Part of that process calls for the board to continue to identify projects and issue a Notice of Funding Opportunity.

Wheeler said the county doesn’t have the personnel in the finance department to handle the amount of work required to address all the requests for funds. The county has been informed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury that the partner has to be fiscally responsible, accountable and transparent.

“We want to find the right partner and then see what that relationship looks like,” Wheeler said. “I’d say by the next finance committee meeting [in September], we should have that all written. I’m trying to find what other people are doing out there as far as the RFQs [Request for Qualifications] to try not to reinvent the whole wheel. We’re different in some areas, so we want to make sure that we choose the right partner who has done this before, is an expert in their field, can write grants, and help determine the metrics to define success.”

The $21.3 million is being disbursed over the next two fiscal years — $10.67 million for FY2021 and FY2022. It’s divided into two buckets for each year as well with $4.19 million for ARPA and $6.48 million for lost revenue.

Kankakee will seek Census recount

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the timeline and process for a recount. The Census Bureau provided more details on the Count Question Resolution program here.

KANKAKEE — Whatever the process entails, the Kankakee City Council appears to have already come to the conclusion that the 2020 U.S. Census figures cannot stand.

While no formal action has yet to be taken, Kankakee has committed to a census do-over.

At the conclusion of Monday’s Kankakee City Council meeting, council members David Baron and Mike O’Brien, both D-2, expressed displeasure regarding the city’s count and Mayor Chris Curtis reiterated his disbelief that the city could have lost 12.6 percent of its population during the past 10 years.

Baron and O’Brien stated there is simply too much funding at stake to let these numbers stand and they stated the loss of the municipality’s Home Rule authority would jeopardize the city’s ability to quickly adjust to the needs of developers and city departments.

Baron characterized getting an accurate census count as a “top priority” for the city.

According to U.S. Census figures released late last week, Kankakee lost 12.6 percent of its population. The census report stated Kankakee’s population dropped from 27,537 in 2010 to 24,052 in 2020.

Kankakee County’s population also dropped from 113,449 in 2010 to 107,502 in 2020, a 5.2 percent decline.

The process

The first step in a census challenge is to review the results through the federal Census Count Question Resolution Program.

A request for a challenge to the population estimates must be received by June 30, 2023. This request must include a letter and supporting evidence. If a community does not get its questions answered through this procedure of further examining the data, it can request a recount. 

Typically, the community challenging the count pays for the recount.

But the cost of a successful challenge can be worth the investment, city officials say. Census figures determine how much money is allocated to communities and those allocations use those figures for the following 10 years.

The loss would be twofold for Kankakee. Not only would the city lose some of its federal funding due to the population drop, but it would likely lose its Home Rule authority as voters could present a referendum to have that title and its corresponding abilities taken away.

Home Rule authority is set aside for municipalities with populations of 25,000 or more.

Curtis said to believe these figures, one would have to assume that based on a household of four residents, that city would have some 800 additional dwellings empty — or about 115 per ward.

He said he does not believe there are that many houses or apartments empty.

“There is no doubt we will file an appeal,” Curtis said after the meeting. “These figures affect everything. I simply don’t see how these numbers can be correct. This is not an accurate count.”

There is concern among many communities across Kankakee County, the state and the nation that the numbers are far from accurate.

Many argue that 2020 was an extremely inopportune time to conduct a census. Due to the pandemic, the normal door-to-door campaign to gather information from unresponding addresses was greatly hampered.

Response rates were lower than normal across the board.

Near the conclusion of Monday’s meeting, Baron said any measure to get a more accurate count must be taken.

“These are problematic numbers,” he said.

Bourbonnais village board OKs Road Ranger travel center plans

BOURBONNAIS — The Bourbonnais Village Board gave approval Monday for the preliminary plat of a three-lot commercial subdivision which will include a Road Ranger travel center on the Bourbonnais Parkway.

The travel center is planned for an 11-acre lot on the southwest side of the Interstate 57 interchange at Exit 318.

The three lots in the subdivision add up to about 30 acres in total, located on the south side of the parkway between Route 45/52 (North Convent Street) and the I-57 interchange.

Mayor Paul Schore said developments for the other two lots in the subdivision are to yet be determined.

The developer, Jennings Realty of Chicago, should begin work on bringing infrastructure to the subdivision later this year, he said.

The area is in need of a storm sewer and detention pond, sanitary system, water access, sidewalks and a new public roadway.

At a finance committee meeting earlier this year, the developer asked trustees for $1.5 million in tax increment financing funds to be used for the infrastructure work. The money would be paid back in an estimated three to five years through sales and gaming tax revenues, project representatives said.

The developer would likely look to break ground on the travel center later this year as well, weather permitting, Schore said.

All together, there are about 180 undeveloped acres at that intersection, he added.

“I think it’s a good stop for a travel plaza like that,” Schore said. “It will be easy to get on and off and go directly to it. We won’t have a lot of truck traffic going in and out of town to get there.”

Schore said village officials have visited other Road Ranger locations and were impressed by the facilities.

“They build a very nice facility, very well lit, well organized,” he said. “We look forward to them being business partners for a number of years.”

Project representatives also said at a previous meeting that Road Ranger plans to invest between $9 million and $10 million in the project and employ between 60 and 70 full-time workers.

Plans for the travel center include fuel service areas for automobiles and semi-tractor trailers. There would be a convenience store that includes food services.

The travel center would become the third located in Kankakee County.

Public parking

Also during Monday’s meeting, the board approved a special-use permit for the village to construct a public parking lot on the northwest corner of the intersection of Main and Coyne streets.

The lot will include 24 parking spaces which will be open for public use, with the intention to help the restaurant currently at that location, Mi Casa Mexican, and improve safety and access around the location.

Schore said the project is similar to the public lot that went behind Beggar’s Pizza.

“You have to have enough parking for businesses to survive, and this will [help] that particular business there to have a better drive-thru situation and not so much of a traffic backup trying to use that driveway,” he said.