Police Officer Carlos Saez and social services specialist Natalie Mercado have revived some programs from Rolling Meadows' former Police Neighborhood Resource Center. But it's not like the old days before economic woes forced the much-praised center to close in 2009.
While their boss, Police Chief Dave Scanlan, is excited about their services and searches for grants to bolster the programs, he makes it clear his department is not coordinating the social services based at East Park Apartments, north of Algonquin and west of New Wilke Road, like it did for two decades.
Both Saez and Mercado have offices at two apartment complexes along Algonquin Road to meet residents and help families, management and crime victims, but Mercado stresses she serves the entire city, and her main office is at City Hall.
Over the decades the city contributed as much as $400,000 annually to the police resource center at East Park, and as many as 20 agencies offered services from English lessons and after school programs to health care. But in 2009 the city council, struggling to balance the budget, removed its last financial support. Some agencies have continued working at the complex, which provides them with space, but Mike Han, East Park's manager, is happy to see the police return.
Scanlan obviously missed the services. A year ago he designated Saez the crime free multifamily housing officer, and this spring he hired Mercado, who had worked with the Children's Advocacy Center of North and Northwest Cook County.
One of Saez' duties is working with complex managers to get felons evicted from apartments and spread the word so they don't move into another rental facility in the city or even nearby, said Scanlan.
Saez sees his duties as monitoring crime in the complexes and working with Mercado to solve problems, not the least of which is building rapport with young people, trying to keep them out of gangs and in alternative activities.
"In most areas like this they don't have enough to do," he said. "Their parents are working, and they are alone, not supervised. Parents might need skills to deal with youngsters using drugs or involved with property damage."
Saez came through for Nayla Fonseca, a 16-year-old who lives in the Apartments at Woodfield Crossing south of Algonquin Road. When girls attacked her last fall, sending her to the hospital, she and her parents were glad to hear Saez was in the complex. "He went to court with us and was helping us a lot," she said.
The girl who faced criminal charges for the attack does not attend Fremd High School any more, and a family involved has moved from the complex. Because of the work he has done, residents are not afraid to be seen talking to Saez, Fonseca said.
The Marquette Companies have spent $10 million renovating the apartments in recent years, a spokesman said.
One of Mercado's first big projects is working with the Rolling Meadows Park District to provide a free day camp at East Park this summer for youngsters ages 8-12 no matter where they live in the city.
"The ultimate goal is having a good relationship between the community and the police department," she said. "At some time everyone needs a little help."
Saez realizes his uniform can be intimidating.
"I also have the enforcement side I'm responsible for," he acknowledged. "Some people think I'm just here to arrest people, but I want to try all other alternatives first."
Mike Han, manager of East Park Apartments since 2001, is happy to have the structured police help back, and he's been the one trying to coordinate services since 2009. Agencies currently working there include Firman Community Service, which helps pregnant women and children; Girl Scouts; Harper College; Northwest Community Hospital Dental Clinic; Palatine Township and Palatine Township Elementary District 15.
"Most of the tenants are hard-working families," said Han. "Sometimes we have a problem with their kids, but they are very, very nice people with low incomes. And the police presence helps with crime."
From a practical point of view, Scanlan finds it useful to have a social worker find services for city residents who otherwise would make repeated calls to the police and fire departments.
And he's frustrated when police are frequently called back to handle criminal activity from the same apartments.
"It's much better for us to work on the problems and resolve them and not continue responding back to that location. Most of the leases call for termination if there's criminal behavior, and this type of service saves our resources," said the police chief. "It's anti-gang and anti-crime. The management people have been very helpful."