Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Brian Rzyski was sworn in Monday evening as the 14th Police Chief of Park Forest. A 23-year department member, Rzyski rose through the ranks as a patrol officer, detective, corporal, patrol commander, detective division commander, and deputy chief before assuming his new position.
eNews Park Forest had the opportunity to meet with Chief Rzyski the day he was sworn into his new position.
A native of the south suburbs
A native of Calumet City and alumnus of Thornton Fractional North High School, Rzyski said that growing up, he always wanted to be a police officer. During his junior and senior years, he was a Calumet City Police Cadet.
After high school, he earned an associate degree in criminal justice from South Suburban College. He then set his sights on becoming an officer in the South Suburbs. He achieved his goal in 2000 when he received a call from then-Park Forest Assistant Village Manager Tom Mick (now Village Manager) informing him that Park Forest accepted his application and he would attend the Chicago Police Academy.
Rzyski, 46, lives in northwest Indiana with his wife Nicole and two teenage sons. He recently received a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from Governors State University.
Changes in the village and the force
When asked how the village has changed over his time on the force, he pointed to a shift in the prevalent types of crimes. Early in his career, Park Forest and the south suburban region had a high rate of residential burglaries. That trend declined significantly. Increased auto thefts and vehicle break-ins replaced it.
Over that period, Rzyski said that the police department itself was relatively stable. When he started his career, the force had 40 officers and now has 42. The police shifts went from 8-hour swing shifts to the current 12-hour shifts. Rzyski believes these help teamwork as officers work with the same group throughout the year.
The level of diversity has also changed significantly over that period, with the force including far more female and minority officers than in the past.
The impact of Black Lives Matter and the pandemic
In previous conversations that eNews Park Forest had with Rzyski’s predecessors, Christopher Manino and Paul Winfrey, there was an acknowledgment that the events of the past three years had a significant impact on how police perform their jobs. They felt that the Black Lives Matter movement, combined with the pandemic, sometimes made police interactions with the public more difficult and resulted in some pullback in the proactive policing practices of the past.
Throughout this period, however, Rzyski said that the community’s support shown to officers was very gratifying. At his swearing-in ceremony, he noted that in 2021 the police department received a 94% approval rate in a resident survey.
One area that changed since the pandemic is the number of speeding violations the police observe. Rzyski said this issue is not unique to Park Forest but occurs throughout the suburbs and Chicago.
“We enforce the speed laws as much as we can, but we are seeing an increase in the number of vehicles that flee from police.”
The Chief said that if the vehicle flees, police will pursue it, but in a closely monitored manner not to put the public in danger from a high-speed chase. “It is safer just to get the license plate number and make the arrest later.”
Problem Oriented Policing Program
Rzyski said that the village would increase awareness of the Problem Oriented Policing (POP) program at neighborhood meetings in the coming months as one of Mayor Woods’ outreach initiatives. Each area of the village has a “POP Officer.” Residents can contact their POP officer directly for assistance in non-time-sensitive situations, such as disputes between neighbors. Communication with the POP officer is via email. Residents can find out who their assigned POP officer is by consulting the map on the police department website or by calling the police non-emergency number (708)748-4700.
The impact of social media
The use of social media platforms such as Facebook will continue to play a major role in police communication efforts, according to Rzyski. “It’s a necessity now and a great way to get information out quickly.”
The department has an internal social media team that meets regularly to discuss the most effective use of the tool. Rzyski admits, though, that there is a downside to social media.
“People can complain about officers, policies, and laws, but it is difficult to find out who is really doing the posting. Sometimes their intent is just to disrupt and disturb.”
The stress of policing & the death of Jada Moore
Rzyski understands firsthand the stress on police officers and the difficulty of witnessing horrific crime scenes and accidents. In addition to maintaining physical fitness to perform the job, an officer’s mental well-being is just as important.
“Sometimes we are called upon to deliver death notifications from other jurisdictions to residents in the middle of the night. It’s very tough, but crimes against children are always the worst for officers.”
A recent crime occurred in Park Forest when 5-year-old Jada Moore was found beaten to death. The girl’s grandparents face charges in the case.
In this case, the department’s officers went above and beyond to help the family.
Jada’s mother did not have enough money to get a dress for her daughter’s funeral. The mother was particular about the type and color she wanted. So an officer’s wife went to a store and sent pictures of dresses until she found one that met the grieving mother’s wishes. The officers paid for the clothes with their own money.
Policing with compassion
Fellow officers and his predecessors gave accolades to Rzyski’s appointment as Chief. Former Chief Manino posted his thoughts on Linked In: “He believes passionately in preventing crime and pursuing criminals, but he deeply believes in doing it in a way that is just, and which shows compassion.”
His goal, Rzyski says, “is to make this a safer community than it was yesterday. Everyone should feel safe in the community. Kids should feel safe walking around the block. We take crime very personally.”
The Chief encourages residents to reach out and interact with officers whenever possible. “We’re just regular people – wives, husbands, brothers, sisters – who wear a uniform every day. People may have had a bad experience with the police in the past, but please give everybody a chance. We try to treat everyone like they are a family member. It’s our culture and it’s a requirement of being a good police officer. That’s important to me. It’s just who I am.”