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NIU police department targets cooperation

Department joins county's major case squad, reviews procedures after turmoil

DeKALB – After a lapse of more than a decade, Northern Illinois University police again are part of the county’s major case squad.

NIU Acting Police Chief Darren Mitchell and leaders from the county’s other major forces recently ratified the necessary paperwork in what Mitchell hopes will be a major step toward increased collaboration. NIU police members will train and plan for major investigations alongside their counterparts from area departments; they’ll also respond when any of the member agencies need help.

“It only helps to bring us closer to other law enforcement in the county,” Mitchell said. “It’s a clear signal of the cooperation that we’ll be engaged in.”

Mitchell and Bill Nicklas, acting director of the NIU Department of Police and Public Safety, have been assessing their own department and exploring partnerships with other police and college departments since longtime Police Chief Donald Grady and Lt. Kartik Ramakrishnan were placed on paid administrative leave Nov. 10.

A local judge found Ramakrishnan intentionally mishandled witness statements favorable to a former NIU police officer accused of raping an NIU student off duty and off campus. Prosecutors dropped charges against the former officer after the judge’s ruling. Both Ramakrishnan and Grady remained on leave Thursday.

Meanwhile, NIU police leaders are promoting two officers to lieutenants and exploring more ways to collaborate with DeKalb police. They also are considering partnering with NIU’s Division of Student Affairs & Enrollment Management on an educational campaign designed to help students make common sense safety decisions.

In addition, they are continuing with the procedural and staffing assessments NIU President John Peters requested last month. They are looking at policing procedures as well as details such as the number of officers on particular shifts. They are reviewing police staffing levels at similar universities but remain committed to having a strong public presence around the university’s 80 buildings, Nicklas said.

“I’m not saying we’re laying people off, but we may move people around and redefine some responsibilities,” Nicklas said.

It wasn’t immediately clear how long those two assessments would take, but Nicklas anticipated presenting a report to Peters.

“No time frame has been given to us, and I’m not aware that there is one,” Nicklas said.

Within a few months, NIU police officers could be riding in squad cars with DeKalb police through a new officer exchange program. The two departments have been working together on patrols of Greek Row and the Annie Glidden Road area on the city’s northwest side for about a year, with more detailed procedures being formalized in July.

DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery complimented the collaboration, especially the extra patrols in that area between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. The NIU Police Department has 74 full-time officers, while the DeKalb Police Department had 58 for most of this year and is expanding to 63.

Lowery said he’d support joint warrant sweeps, compliance checks and other policing measures.

“With greater collaboration comes better results,” Lowery said. “It’s a force multiplier.”

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