28-year vet Walter Felton lays out his thoughts on the future of Rockford Police Dept.
By Erin Kolb
ROCKFORD – Police Lieutenant Walter Felton has a few of his own ideas of what kind of person should be selected as Rockford’s next police chief.
In the police chief selection process, the police department looks to an outside assessment company for advice, but ultimately, the fire and police commission board has the final say.
For Lt. Felton personally, the city needs a police chief who focuses on community involvement.
“The amount of community involvement we have now is a start, but I really want to quell the idea that it’s an us vs. them system,” Felton said. “Our system is us and them.”
Felton said that since Rockford has a large immigrant population, the ‘us vs. them’ image can be hard to fight.
“These people come from a country where the government is not them,” Felton said. “Their government truly is against them.”
Felton said that because of this, a lot of people come here for political asylum.
He explained that it isn’t like a restaurant where you can go online and see all the good things people have said about the department, and that the department relies heavily on word of mouth for their reputation.
Felton has been with the Rockford Police Department (RPD) for 28 years. He started where all officers start: on patrol, before being promoted to detective.
He worked in youth and sex crimes for ten years before another promotion to sergeant , along with being a crime scene supervisor for nine years. Felton has also served as a field training officer and on the SWAT team during his time with RPD.
While Felton doesn’t believe the police department has reached their ideal position in the community, or that the department will ever win 100 percent favor with the community, it is still important to better their image.
“People tend to perceive bad where there is none,” Felton said. “Our stock and trade is coming into contact with people on their worst days, which is why it’s easy to throw stones at the police.”
An important part of changing that perception, Felton said, is putting officers in positions of positive interaction within the community.
To achieve this, the department has been working with community groups and sending out community service officers.
Unfortunately, though, there are things that stand in the way of the department’s goals.
“Some of our desires are tempered by financial reality,” Felton said.
“We have to operate within our budget. We’re a government agency, we can’t just put everything on a credit card.”
One aspect Felton would like to see money put towards is hiring more officers.
“We have 290 officers now. If we added 15 more, in a 300 man department, that’s a 5 percent increase,” Felton said.
“We’d have an opportunity to do a better job by getting more officers out there.”
Felton says the need for community feedback is paramount, though many don’t engage when asked. The department has sent out mail surveys to the community but has received little response.