Campus police services for NEIU community

Chief Escalante with officers Paul Whitfield, Sebastian Czerech and Dexter Johnson.

Chief Escalante with officers Paul Whitfield, Sebastian Czerech and Dexter Johnson.

Earnest Beeson and Montgomery Blair

In the early morning hours of Jan. 14, NEIU officers responded to and arrested an individual trespassing on campus. This individual was listed on the university’s banned persons list, which is available to the public through the NEIU website under the University Police tab. 

The arrest, witnessed by the NEIU Independent, was executed efficiently and without incident. Officers cornered and apprehended the suspect at the intersection of Bryn Mawr and Central Park.  

When cornering the suspect, officers appeared to establish a “hasty cordon” by parking their patrol cars so that all directions of traffic were blocked. The arrest took under five minutes with the suspect complying with the four officers.

While Northeastern Illinois University Police Department’s (NEIUPD) policy discourages commenting on active investigations, the Independent spoke with Chief of Police John Escalante and three of the four officers involved in the arrest. During the interviews, we discussed their experience, training and personal histories.

Escalante took command of NEIUPD after serving the Chicago Police Department (CPD) for more than 30 years. Since joining NEIUPD, Escalante has aimed to provide his officers with combined training opportunities with the CPD. 

One important program that Escalante urges his officers to volunteer for is the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. The training exposes officers to rigorous and realistic scenarios that include, but are not limited to, negative reactions to medication, suicidal ideations and people experiencing schizophrenic episodes. The officers lauded that CIT not only shows them how to handle these situations, but they are also taught the importance of taking care of their own mental health. In an era where behavioral health disorders are on the rise, this training may be the difference between life and death.

During the interview, Officer Sebastian Czerech emphasized the realism of the CIT training and praised its effectiveness. “I would say it was probably the best training I was sent to,” said Czerech. He explained that the instructors who provide the training are behavioral health specialists, with personal interests in the success of the program.  

Officer Dexter Johnson explained that the training often includes officers from other departments, therefore adding a range of experiences that are beneficial to less experienced members of the police department. All eligible NEIUPD officers have completed CIT training. Although not everyone meets the minimum requirements to attend, only eligible officers are accounted for so it is actually recognized by department statistics as 100% involvement within the unit when it comes to CIT training. 

Czerech and his colleagues, officers Johnson and Paul Whitfield, were among those who executed the Jan. 14 arrest. Collectively, all three officers have seven years of experience. Czerech immigrated to the United States from Poland at the age of 17. He completed his Basic Peace Officer Training (BPOT) through the Basic CPD Recruit Academy and has been with NEIUPD for three years. Johnson came to NEIUPD from Southern Illinois, completing his BPOT through the Cook County Basic Police Recruit Academy. He has been with NEIUPD for two years. Whitfield, a Chicago native hailing from the south side, completed his BPOT through the Basic CPD Recruit Academy and has been with NEIUPD for two years. 

Despite their different life experiences, all three officers pursued careers for the betterment of the community. These officers emphasized that their primary concern is safety, outlining a few basic procedures that ensure the security and welfare of students and faculty. 

NEIUPD officers are often seen patrolling off-campus and they often know the surrounding neighborhood better than their CPD counterparts as NEIUPD officers are tasked with patrolling a smaller area than most other departments and are therefore able to provide more focus. The department receives its jurisdiction from the state of Illinois so they are also tasked with protecting the interests of the state. However, there are also nearby land properties that are owned by the university even though the land has yet to be developed for the campus.  As NEIU is a commuter school, the nearby Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) stops are included in their jurisdiction. The most important interest is the safety of students and faculty.

NEIUPD offer various services for the NEIU community. Officers can conduct jump starts on car batteries, unlock vehicles and provide police escort to one’s car, the Brown Line station or requisite bus stop. Many students operate on a limited budget, so free services like jump starting or unlocking of vehicles could save them $100 or more. For students with late night classes, police escorts may provide a sense of security. If ever in need of assistance, all students or faculty members have to do is call the Non-Emergency Police number and speak with the telecommunicator who will radio the officers on duty. 

For any students who wish to take advantage of these services, the NEIUPD Non-Emergency number is (773) 442-4100. The facility is located attached to the parking garage and is always open.