Naperville mayoral candidates are prioritizing public safety, but in different ways

Naperville mayoral candidates Scott Wehrli and Benny White have differing views on a shared priority if elected: public safety.

White, a Naperville city councilman, and Wehrli, a longtime liquor commission member, both said they're committed to preserving the city's status as one of the safest communities in the nation.

But while White said the focus should be on developing and recruiting a larger candidate pool for police officers, Wehrli aims to create an atmosphere where criminal activity is more unwelcome.

Candidate Tiffany Stephens, who runs a nonprofit organization, did not participate in the Daily Herald endorsement interview, did not submit a candidate questionnaire and did not respond to emailed questions.

"People are not applying for these jobs right now," said White, a retired Army officer and an ROTC instructor at Joliet West High School. "In order for us to sustain that great police force, we've got to think a little bit out of the box to figure out how we're going to get more people to sign up and be a police officer.

"We're good right now," he said. "But as time continues, if all we're going to get is less than twenty people on the list, I'm really concerned about the quality of our forces going down."

White said transfers from other communities have helped bolster the ranks of the police department, but he sees aggressive recruitment as the key to maintaining a strong force. According to White, the annual pool of potential officers has decreased in recent years from nearly 250 to fewer than 20.

Wehrli agreed maintaining a strong police force is critical to public safety, but he said the image Naperville projects figures into the overall equation. He pointed to the rising number of illegally possessed guns that have been seized as evidence criminals are entering the city at disturbing rates.

He also said policies restricting the ability to pursue suspects fleeing in cars shift the way officers do their job.

"Yes, we are ranked as one of the safest places in the country, but I don't want to see Naperville become the safest place in the country for people to do bad things," said Wehrli, who owns Dukane Precast and works for the Naperville Park District Police.

"We have to make ourselves a community that welcomes law enforcement, that is willing to work with law enforcement and understands their job is difficult," he said.

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