PARK FOREST, Ill. - Last year, the Park Forest Police Department replaced a sworn police officer position with a community engagement coordinator in order to help the community more efficiently.
“We are never going to not be able to have police - that's simply not the world we live in. But can we play smarter, more efficiently,” said Park Forest Police Chief, Christopher Mannino.
Mannino continued on to say that this position provides more detailed care to people that need it within the community, especially youths.
“It kind of helped me and what I was going through,” said Ariana Brazley.
Brazley is 17-years-old and a mother to a 1-year-old son.
After school, she attends EMT training, but before that and before having her son, Ashton, she found herself in trouble due to a curfew violation.
The Saturday morning Youth Violence Prevention Class in Park Forest is taught by Community Engagement Coordinator, Rachel Wax.
“Through my experience within the system, I actually found my passion with assisting other youth who have gone through similar things,” said Wax.
Wax is able to connect with kids in her program because she too has been “through the system.”
“She taught me like more how to control my emotions and where to direct them because I was a really angry child,” said Brazley.
If you are between the ages of 13 and 17 and are found guilty of a non-serious offense in Park Forest, such as fighting, drug possession or theft, you are eligible for the 16-hour youth violence prevention program.
Wax say more than 400 kids have participated in just three years.
“We give them the skills they need to take back the reins of their life and stop letting them be defined by the traumas that have happened to them,” said Wax.
Chief Mannino says it was an obvious decision to reallocate the funds to hire Wax.
“We can address these underlying issues of trauma and ensuring these specially these young people don't grow to be our next offenders, and if we focus on that I think we can have a huge impact on crime in our area,” said Mannino.
Mannino says the community has also seen a decline of juveniles in custody due to this program.