Rockford, Illinois was once the 6th most dangerous place in the United States according to the FBI. But when police chief Dan O’Shea took over the Rockford Police Department, he knew things could be turned around. O’Shea turned to Community Policing. Not a new concept, but one that had taken a back seat during the 1980s and 1990s. O’Shea refers to that time period as the “cuff-’em-‘n-stuff-’em” era. Jailing even the small time offenders was thought to keep the streets clean. Instead, this tactic lead to overcrowding of our prison system. This had a domino effect on our culture playing into the problems we face today. But Community Policing could change the way things are done.
Community Policing is more rehabilative than punitive. It’s about helping people not jailing small time offenders. So, O’Shea started the Rock House program. Two police officers would receive free housing in return for living in the neighborhoods they patrol. Officers Patrice Turner and Eric Thurmond stepped up and immediately began to see their neighborhoods turn around. Drug dealers moved out and trust of the police began to rise.
My crew and I spent a week in the Chicago area during the 2019 polar vortex capturing this story. It was so cold our camera record button froze and Wal-Mart even closed for a day. But riding along with these officers and telling their story in -20°F weather was worth the risk of frost bite.