Tinley Park’s top cop aims for jump on crime
BY STEVE METSCH email@example.com June 20, 2012 11:30PM
Tinley Park Chief Steve Neubauer. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 23, 2012 6:18AM
With the six-month anniversary of his debut as Tinley Park police chief just around the corner, Steve Neubauer is feeling at home in the job.
Late Police Chief Mike O’Connell ran a good department, Neubauer said. The budget can always use help, but he’s pleased with personnel. And the Lane Bryant murders continue to have the department’s attention, even though they were more than four years ago and far removed from Elmhurst, where Neubauer was chief at the time.
One change Neubauer hopes to make is to resurrect a tactical unit that would be “more proactive than reactive” when it comes to fighting crime, he said. He is collecting applications from officers in the department for what is envisioned as a two-officer unit.
“There was a tactical unit before, which fell by the wayside with the recession,” Neubauer said earlier this week during an interview in his office. “At police departments across the country, when the recession hit, speciality units fell by the wayside, and it went to answering 911 calls. Very reactive. Not proactive. You have to do some proactive things.”
The detective unit does follow-up investigations, he said, “but it’s difficult for them, sometimes, with their case load, to go out and do proactive drugs (investigations) and (work on) proactive neighborhood disorder issues.”
Deploying undercover tactical officers could prove valuable to detectives, as they cultivate sources and help eliminate problems before they become too large, Neubauer said.
“We’ll start with a two-man unit. We’ve got the resumes, and now we are in vacation season. Hopefully, it will be up and running by mid-July,” he said.
Tactical unit intelligence could be shared with other communities “because this kind of behavior doesn’t have borders,” Neubauer said.
Neubauer cited an example of Elmhurst police investigators being able to dry up a heroin source traced all the way to Chicago’s West Side.
Neubauer also has reinstated the position of traffic officer, with Officer Michael O’Hern in charge of responding to residents’ concerns about traffic, often centering on complaints about speeding or stop signs.
‘It’s running smooth’
Neubauer started as Tinley Park chief on Jan. 2. Phil Valois had served as interim chief after O’Connell died in May 2011.
“As I told the people who hired me, ‘Don’t expect a lot of changes because the ship is running good.’ Mike O’Connell ran a good department,” Neubauer said. “This is a very well-trained police department. It’s running smooth here. The challenges are not with personnel, but with a budget we have to watch in an economy that’s very tenuous.”
Neubauer has been meeting for hourlong one-on-ones with each employee, getting their take on the pros and cons.
“I’m shocked by (hearing) little or no negativity,” he said.
Neubauer also is glad he no longer commutes from Elmhurst. He and wife Kathy bought a home in the Brookside Glen subdivision, a short drive from the police station.
Asked about two of the village’s more infamous cases — the beatings this year at the Ashford House restaurant, and the murders of five women on Feb. 2, 2008 at the Lane Bryant store — he said investigations are ongoing in both.
Five Indiana men accused of beating a group of people last month at the Ashford House coincidentally are due in court Thursday. But police continue to pursue cases against about a dozen others, who officials believe are part of an extreme group that was targeting a white supremacist gathering.
“The Ashford House continues,” Neubauer said. “We are working on it, but we aren’t making any more statements until we have (others) ready to charge, It’s a major case. Those take time.”
Meanwhile, three officers are assigned full time to the Lane Bryant case.
“There are a lot of things to be followed up. We still go through the tips,” Neubauer said. “The biggest eyeopener for me, coming in as an outsider, is the volume of it and how you manage a case like that.
“Whether it’s Chicago, Tinley Park or Los Angeles, I don’t know if there’s a good game plan for doing that because cases of this magnitude are so rare.”
The South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force remains active in the investigation as well, he said.
“It’s like the Palatine case,” he said, recalling the 1993 Brown’s Chicken restaurant massacre in 1993 that was solved in 2002. “Never give up hope.”