By Josh Bootsma
LANSING, Ill. (August 12, 2021) – Lansing’s new police chief Al Phillips took the oath of office on June 15, making him Lansing’s tenth police department head. In his nearly two months on the job, Phillips has spoken with The Lansing Journal multiple times about restorative justice, community policing, and more aspects of his vision for the town.
Working his way towards chief
Phillips was hired in 1998 and started as a patrol officer. Soon after, he served in a rotating detective position for three years before returning to patrol. Phillips eventually became a sergeant with LPD some years before taking on the role of Village Preparedness Coordinator.
As the Preparedness Coordinator, Phillips worked closely with the Village to create strategies and plans for emergency management, a role that helped him make connections throughout town.
Phillips became a lieutenant roughly six years ago and for the last few years has been in the Criminal Investigations Division.
“That’s what I aspired to be. There’s where I wanted to be when I was young because that was catching bad guys,” he said. “That was fulfilling my goals initially.”
As he worked more in the role, however, he realized dealing only with “bad guys” and victims has a somewhat narrow scope in the larger role of the department.
“Not really being able to impact a bigger range of people, that’s when my desire to become chief was really set in motion,” he said.
Bringing restorative justice to Lansing
As Chief, Phillips has the privilege and responsibility of setting the course for the department, but he also sees how his choices and policies can set the course for Lansing youth as well.
One point in Phillips’ multi-faceted plan that he presented to village officials as part of his hiring process was creating a restorative justice program.
Restorative justice is an alternative way of thinking about crime, where emphasis is placed on harm done to the community and individuals, with an equal emphasis placed on repairing that harm.
According to restorativejustice.org, “Restorative justice views crime as more than breaking the law — it also causes harm to people, relationships, and the community. So a just response must address those harms as well as the wrongdoing.”
Phillips has worked with Detective David Bell — who is retiring later in August — on the program, as well as officer Kiara Bogan, who will be the point person for the program as it grows. Bogan is also the new school resource officer in Lansing and will soon be promoted to Detective.
First restorative justice class
“Lansing’s Better Choices Program” is the name of the initiative, and it had its first class on July 24 — a “test case,” according to Phillips — that hosted four individuals. Reverend Doctor Otis Lane is the class leader, having worked with Phillips, Bell, Bogan, and others to create a program from scratch. Lane regularly works with teenagers in his roles as a dean at Bremen High School in Midlothian and as a pastor at South Suburban Mission Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Robbins.
“We have explored a lot of different options on what we wanted to do with this. None of them really fit what we were looking to do so we went out on our own to develop something that would be perfect for Lansing,” Phillips said.
The chief was present at Lane’s first class on July 24 and said he was impressed with the way he conducted the class: “Reverend Lane was very interactive with the kids. It wasn’t just like they were sitting there with him lecturing to them all day. He had them getting up, doing different games and things that really got them involved. That was really impressive.”
Lane’s objective, Phillips explained, is to — over the course of a handful of sessions with each class — show the consequences of poor life choices and the importance of plotting a life course that’s free from crime.
Correcting courses at a young age
Overall, Phillips hopes the program will serve as a course correction for Lansing youth who have made a bad choice or two. Though there’s not a hard cut-off for age eligibility, the target age range for the “Lansing’s Better Choices Program” is 13–16.
“We had two young kids who started off with some thefts,” Phillips said. “And if we could have stopped them right there and gotten ahold of them — I’m not saying we could have fixed them — but the path these kids took is just way too typical…. First they got arrested for a couple of thefts, nothing happened. Then they started breaking into cars, nothing happened to them. Then they started robbing kids of their cell phones, nothing happened to them. Next thing you know, we had six armed robbery charges on these kids. And they’re kids. They’re 16 to 17 years old.”
The restorative justice program is focused on targeting youth after they commit their first crime. The goal is to correct their course from there. Phillips explained that LPD will keep an eye out for young people with court summons who may be a good fit for the program.
“Instead of paying a fine, or going to court, we’ll ask them to join this program,” he said. “If they go through it, the ticket will be discarded, and they’ll go about their lives.”
Lane will then invite the program graduates to join one of his other youth programs, so he can stay in contact with them.
Diversity in policing
In addition to promoting restorative justice, Lansing’s new police chief also wants to promote diversity on the police force.
“We would like to see our police department reflect our community. But right now, it’s a very difficult time, and a lot of people do not want to be a police officer right now — understandably with a lot of the stuff that’s going on,” he said.
To incentivize interest in becoming a police officer, Phillips hopes to start a diversity scholarship for a Lansing resident who is interested in pursuing law enforcement.
“Not sure how it’s all going to work out yet, but I’m really hoping the Human Relations Commission can help me with that,” he said. “I’m looking for a very progressive police department to where we’re diverse, to where we understand our community’s needs, and [officers] address it without being told.”
Since first sharing that vision with The Lansing Journal, LPD has sworn in six new officers, three of whom are white, two of whom are Latino, and one of whom is Black.
Phillips is also a new participant in Common Ground, a Lansing program designed to bring people together from diverse ethnic groups and backgrounds to share their experiences, cultures, and beliefs in hopes of gaining a better understanding.
Lansing and the national conversation
Phillips believes the key to strengthening the relationship between police and residents is not found in talk shows or national campaigns, but in local interactions.
He often describes the positive daily interactions between LPD and Lansing residents as “putting money in the bank.” In other words, Lansing officers are saving up goodwill with the community every time they have a positive interaction with someone in town.
“For us it’s about unity. The division that’s gone on in the country, it’s time to end that. It’s time to get back together,” Phillips said after a softball game in July that brought TF South baseball players and LPD officers together in the name of charity and relationship-building. The game was Phillips’ idea and one he hopes to continue in coming years.
The new chief shared the same sentiment a few weeks later during National Night Out, a nationwide event made local as hundreds came to Fox Pointe to be hosted, fed, and entertained by the LPD.
“Get involved in your community. Come out to our beat meetings. If you have a suggestion, we’re here to listen. And that’s what we want to do, we want to have good community relations, and listen to everybody and try and prevent crime,” he said from the Fox Pointe stage on August 3.
“For me, a lot of the stuff I see going on nationally, I don’t know if it’s not truly accurate here in Lansing — there’s certainly problems, I’m not going to deny that — but our community is very strong here, and they support us,” Phillips told The Lansing Journal. “I want to build on that. Chief Murrin did a great job with community policing, and I want to keep building on that and ‘putting money in the bank,’ working with kids, working with our community, and letting them know who we are. We’re here to serve and protect them. I’m proud of that, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
Chief Phillips is married, has two kids, and enjoys golfing and fishing.
The Lansing Police Department is located at 2710 170th Street, Lansing, IL.
- Lansing Police and residents unite for National Night Out (August 4, 2021)
- Six new Lansing Police officers sworn in (July 27, 2021)
- 20-year veteran David Bell to retire from Lansing Police Department in August (July 24, 2021)
- Lansing Police score more runs, but everybody wins in softball game between LPD and TF South (July 13, 2021)
- Al Phillips takes the helm as Lansing’s new police chief (June 15, 2021)
Let’s hope he drops the “whack-a-mole” excuse and actually tries to stop illegal fireworks.
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