On the Road with Corporal Mel Dunnagan


Corporal Mel Dunnagan has been with the Park Forest Police Department 22 years. (Photo: ENEWSPF)

Park Forest, IL–(ENEWSPF)– Corporal Mel Dunnagan has served with the Park Forest Police Department for twenty-two years. During a recent 2½ hour ride-along, Dunnagan shared some thoughts on his work preventing crime, apprehending offenders, and working to protect the people of Park Forest.

The Park Forest Police Department has an administrative branch which includes the Chief, two Deputy Chiefs, and civilian employees. There are other divisions, including a detective division, tactical unit, and community policing program.

Each shift typically has at six officers: one commander, one corporal, and at least four officers.

“Ideally we would have more, but the budget just doesn’t allow for that,” Dunnagan says.

Is there more crime in Park Forest than there used to be? “In a lot of communities nationwide, the crime rate’s gone up, unemployment rate is up, the price of everything is going up. The attitude of some of the people coming in, some of them are transients, and they don’t have ownership in the community, or property. So, they look for a fast way to make their money.”

Dunnagan said he sees the Park Forest Police Department as a “destination” department compared with other communities, “As far as being any more dangerous than other communities, I gotta say, it’s a pretty safe community.”

While not denying that Park Forest has serious issues to contend with, Dunnagan puts things in perspective reflecting on a neighboring community, “Just this last weekend, Chicago Heights had four shootings in three hours. We haven’t had that volume, thankfully. We don’t want that volume. They’ve historically had a problem with drug trafficking and prostitution.”

“If you go to any corner in town right here, you’re not going to see hookers hanging out on the corners. You’re not going to pick up the paper and read in the police blotter that you’ve got hookers who are stopping cars in the middle of Sauk Trail or Western Avenue.”

Corporal Dunnagan seemed grateful that he didn’t have to contend with the amount of crime other towns have, where weekend stings might result in the seizure of vehicles and the arrest of fifty or sixty people for prostitution. “It’s no big secret,” he says.

“Everybody knows that over by Wentworth Avenue and Rt. 30 it’s ‘drug alley’ back through there. They’ll do a raid on one area, shut it down, and it’ll pop up again.”

Are we seeing more gang activity in Park Forest? “We’re seeing different factions of gangs, now. We just went past one of those [electrical] boxes. That’s a gathering spot where the gang members go, so that’s the reason we pulled up there and made them leave the area.”

“We do have problems here in town. We have narcotics, and we have an aggressive tactical unit to address those issues.”

With more calls for service in some of the court areas surrounding Hemlock, Dunnagan sees a need to be proactive, working more closely with private security personnel employed in those areas, “They come talk to us, gather information, share intelligence and what they’ve learned, working together with us.”

Dunnagan seems pleased with morale in the department, “It’s a pretty good department. We have a lot of support from the administrative wing.” Dunnagan says the Deputy Chiefs are never far away, and the Chief will come out and respond to calls as well.

What of comments from the community where people report a certain residence as a “drug house” and express dissatisfaction when they perceive that very little is being done?

“If the general citizenry look at a situation like that, and they think, ‘The people have to know that this is a drug home,’ or there’s a high volume of traffic in and out, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re ignoring that. It’s just that we’re building a case, a stronger case, so we can go in there with a search warrant and an arrest warrant.”

During a drive through the Eastgate neighborhood shortly after midnight, Dunnagan dispersed a large group of individuals where were standing around the electrical box near Allegheny and Antioch streets.

Are we seeing more gang activity in Park Forest? “We’re seeing different factions of gangs, now. We just went past one of those [electrical] boxes. That’s a gathering spot where the gang members go, so that’s the reason we pulled up there and made them leave the area.”

There were upwards of 100 people wandering the streets of Eastgate past midnight. Dunnagan says that is common, and the foot traffic lasts all night long. He says police see similar late-night activity in other parts of town as well, including the Lincolnwood area.

Dunnagan emphasized that citizens can call the investigations department and leave tips on the hotline, “They don’t have to identify who they are.” Dunnagan said people can give an address or direct police to a particular block on a street if they see suspicious activity between particular hours.

“If they see a pattern with certain vehicles, make, model, color, that’s a great thing. It takes the entire community to make a safe environment to live in.”

Corporal Dunnagan stressed the need to reach out to neighbors, “I think, across the country in general, there’s people that just don’t interact with their neighbors. They don’t have that hometown or bedroom-town feeling. People are intimidated about talking to their neighbor about something that they’re not comfortable with, like their children are just constantly running across their lawn, or a gathering of a group of kids on a corner. People, for their own safety, just don’t want to address these issues. I think it becomes easier to turn your head, not make the call when something is going on.

“We try to encourage people to call. If it doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t right.”

Persons wishing to leave anonymous information on any criminal matters including narcotics or gang activity are encouraged to call 708-748-1309 and leave a message on Detective Beilke’s voice mail.