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Local communities celebrate ‘night out’ with police, neighbors

  • Written by Joe Boyle

The origin of National Night Out dates back to 1984 as police-community partnerships were developed in an effort to better relate to the neighborhoods they patrol.

Southwest suburban communities have since joined in an effort to develop a better relationship between police and residents. National Night Out is always held the first Tuesday of August and recognized and celebrated in different ways in communities across the country.

Organizers in Hickory Hills, Palos Hills and Worth recognized National Night Out in similar but different ways Tuesday night.

The Jake Gill Band performed at Kasey Meadow Park, 8047 W. 91st Place, in Hickory Hills. The event was a celebration as free pop and popcorn were distributed to visitors to the park. Plenty of games and fun was available for kids at the Kasey Meadow Park playground.

“We have a lot of things going on,” said Jennifer Fullerton, the executive director of the Hickory Hills Park District. “We have the free pop and popcorn. Everyone has a good time. The kids have a good time.”

The Hickory Hills Police Department and the Roberts Park Fire Department Protection District were also on hand at the National Night Out, interacting with kids and adults. First Midwest Bank was the chief sponsor.

The first National Night Out involved over two millions neighbors across 400 communities in 23 states, according to organizers. The original events were more solemn gatherings as residents were encouraged to turn on their porch lights and come out to greet the police and meet their neighbors. Even if they remained in their homes, neighbors were encouraged to put their porch lights on as a sign of unity and camaraderie with the police and community.

But since the first events were held 33 years ago, National Night Out has become more festive. At Kasey Meadow Park, for instance, children were playing in the splash pad. Adults were taking a stroll along the new walking and jogging path around the park.

Southwest suburban communities, like cities and towns across the nation, began to host block parties, festivals, parades, cookouts and safety demonstrations. The majority of these events include visits from emergency personnel. Many children have the opportunity to meet first responders and take tours of emergency vehicles.

National Night Out has taken place at the Town Square Park, 8500 W. 103rd St., in Palos Hills, the past couple of years. The event keeps getting bigger in that community. The staff from nearby Green Hills Library drops by to interact with kids. First responders also allow kids to tour their vehicles.

Bonnie Price, the longtime village clerk in Worth, said National Night Out activities are now in its fifth year for the village. Like other southwest suburban communities, the celebration drew a large crowd.

“This is like a festival atmosphere,” Price said. “The kids have a great time and they get to talk to the police. They get to know each other.”

The National Night Out event held at Peaks Park at 107th and Oak Park Avenue had a DJ, games, inflatables, balloons, face painting and ice cream for kids and adults. The North Palos Fire Protection District was also on hand. Hot dogs were also served.

Price said that the National Night Out in Worth has been positive for the community and the kids have responded well to it.

“Just the other day some kids came in asking if Officer (Mike) Cozzi (the school resource officer) was going to be at the National Night Out,” recalled Price. “When they heard he was, they were so excited and said they would be there. The kids want to go to talk to the police. That means it is working.”

Oak Lawn man gets 6 years in animal cruelty case

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

edward hanania photo 8-3

                     Hanania

Oak Lawn resident Edward Hanania, 23, was sentenced last Friday to six years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of felony aggravated animal cruelty in a Bridgeview courtroom.

Hanania was transferred this week to Statesville Prison in Joliet to begin serving his sentence. He had been held without bail in Cook County Jail since May 25, after surveillance cameras showed him tossing two toy poodles off the fifth-floor roof of a parking garage adjacent to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

An investigation determined that he obtained the two dogs from a woman who had found them running loose, and had posted a notice on Facebook. Hanania pretended to be the owner, and paid the woman $20 for finding them. He then took the dogs, which were actually owned by a Chicago man, and drove to the parking garage and threw them off.

One of the dogs, 4-year-old Guero, died on the way to the Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge. But the 14-month-old dog, named Angel, survived with badly broken legs. He is recovering after having successful surgery.

Hanania was also convicted of a parole violation on an unrelated charge of producing and delivering heroin. As a part of a plea deal before Cook County Judge Colleen Hyland, he pleaded guilty to the animal cruelty charge and received a five-year sentence, as well as six years for the parole violation. But the sentences are to run concurrently. He is also required to remain under mandatory court supervision for two years after being released from prison.

Brannigan quits county commission

  • Written by Anthony Caciopo

Palos Township Trustee Sharon Brannigan has stepped down from her position on the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues following a call for her resignation by County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, leaving the larger issue of her position on the Palos Township Board still simmering with community activists.

“We’re claiming this as a victory and a step in the right direction,” said Bassem Kawar, advocacy specialist with the National Network for Arab American Communities. “We’re going to continue to organize until she resigns as a Palos Township trustee.”

Brannigan has been under fire for comments she posted on social media that many people inside and outside the community have found offensive. In now-deleted statements on Facebook, Brannigan questioned why Palos-area schools are “filling with Middle Eastern students without proper documentation.”

She also claimed that area Muslims fail to integrate into the community.

“Everywhere you turn, from Orland Park to Bridgeview, those numbers are increasing in leaps and bounds,” she wrote. “We are allowing these people whether they have peaceful intentions or not into our country without question.”

Following widespread discovery and circulation of the comments, a crowd of more than 100 people showed up at Palos Township headquarters for a scheduled meeting on July 10 in which at least a dozen attendees spoke of their dissatisfaction with Brannigan. Many of those who spoke inside the meeting and outside the building demanded her resignation. Less than half the crowd was allowed into the meeting room due to seating limitations.

When Brannigan’s online postings came to the attention of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, she issued a statement for Brannigan to resign from the Commission on Women’s Issues, an organization whose mission is to advance the status of women and girls in Cook County. The focus of the commission is domestic violence, childcare, economic inequity and health issues, according to the county’s website. Brannigan has served on the commission since May of 2016. She was an appointee of Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison (R-17th).

Pressure from the community, along with Preckwinkle’s call for Brannigan to step down, resulted in the trustee’s decision to resign, said Kawar.

“We truly believe it was a combination of both,” he said, citing a coalition of organizations including the Campaign to TAKE ON HATE, Arab American Action Network (AAAN), Arab American Family Services (AAFS), AmVote PAC, Arab American Democratic Club, Kiswani Law P.C., Law Offices of Reem Odeh and MPower Change.

Brannigan has so far refused to resign from her elected position on the Palos Township board. She told The Reporter in a brief phone call on July 18 “My position is the same. Nothing has changed.” A call to the trustee for additional comment was not retuned in time for this edition.

“It’s important to know that even though it’s an elected position, Sharon Brannigan ran unopposed,” said Kawar. “It’s clear that Palos Township doesn’t stand for such rhetoric. Palos Township values the diversity of the township. They value their neighbors and they truly don’t stand for what Brannigan stands for.”

Palos Township government provides a variety of services to all or parts of Bridgeview, Hickory Hills, Orland Park, Palos Heights, Palos Hills, Palos Park, Willow Springs and Worth.

Adding intrigue to the trustee’s departure from the Commission on Women’s Issues is a published report that she had already resigned from the position prior to widespread notice of her Facebook comments, the heated July 10 meeting and Preckwinkle’s call for her to leave.

Brannigan reportedly had decided to leave her post on the commission because it was conflicting with her small business and she could not give the organization the proper attention.

Also reported was a claim by Morrison that Preckwinkle was politically sniping with her demand for Brannigan to leave when the trustee had already put into motion her own departure.

“Well, we can expect that position of him,” said Kawar about Morrison. “Sharon is his appointee on the Commission for Women’s Issues and obviously he had no comment about the (controversial) comments she made. He said she’s just going to have to live with her comments.”

Kawar said a petition has been launched that has garnered almost 500 signatures to date. Coalition members have already visited elected officials in some of the seven communities located in Palos Township. Speaking to The Reporter by phone in his car, Kawar was unable to provide the names of the four communities but said “There’s a lot of support for our cause. Our local mayors are supporting us and supporting our demand, publically calling for her resignation.”

Kawar said coalition members and local residents will be gearing up for the next Palos Township meeting on Aug. 14.

“More allies will be there,” he said. “It’s going to be a big meeting.”

 

Oak Lawn welcomes new police chief

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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                                                                                    Photo by Dermot Connolly

New Oak Lawn Police Chief William "Randy" Palmer (right) shakes hands with his newly retired predecessor, Michael Murray, at a cake and coffee "going-away party" for Murray held Friday at the Oak Lawn police station.

A smooth transition was made this week between Oak Lawn’s retiring police chief, Michael Murray, and the newly appointed William “Randy” Palmer, who already is well-known with more than 22 years of experience with the Oak Lawn Police Department.

Village Manager Larry Deetjen issued a statement last Thursday announcing Palmer’s appointment, noting that he is the village’s 11th chief, since the first one was hired more than 100 years ago.

With Murray retiring after 30 years of service, Deetjen said that Palmer was chosen following a lengthy search within the department, after several “very qualified candidates” put their names forward for consideration.

Palmer was one the most well-known members of the Oak Lawn Police Department already, having served as chief of investigations and public information officer since 2014.

After stepping into his new role on Monday, he was too busy to be interviewed earlier this week. But he joked on Friday during a coffee-and-cake retirement party honoring Murray that he already has encountered his first “troll,” before even officially taking over the job. The new chief laughed as he told of reading the comments under his photo that appeared on an online publication announcing his appointment.

“Doesn’t he look like Captain Kangaroo?,” said one commenter, referring to the onetime children’s TV show host played for decades by Bob Keeshan.

The new chief is an Air Force veteran who earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice from Governors State University. He is a graduate of the 234th session of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., and also attended John Marshall Law School.

Prior to being chief of investigations and public information officer, during his long career with Oak Lawn, he has served as a patrol officer, watch commander, detective sergeant and supervisor in both the Patrol and Detective divisions. He also has been an investigator and assistant commander of the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force, which he served for 13 years.

“Contemporary times have put the spotlight on police departments and their officers nationally. Chief Palmer pledges adherence to our local ordinances and the U.S. Constitution with respect for individual rights and safety, and the protection of law-abiding residents of our great village of Oak Lawn,” said Deetjen.

The village manager said the quality of the candidates from within the department who competed for the top job bodes well “for the strong leadership future that the Oak Lawn Police Department had in place.”

Palos Hills alderman: Police station parking lot could be ‘safe zone’ for exchanging goods

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

One Palos Hills alderman is hoping some good can come from a negative experience, and by doing so make the city safer for those meeting in person to complete online transactions.

During the committee-of-the-whole meeting July 20, Ald. Joe Marrotta (4th Ward) suggested the city consider designating the parking lot at the police station, 8555 W. 103rd St., as a “safe zone” for residents to exchange goods agreed upon through online sites such as Craigslist and eBay.

Marrotta said the impetus for the idea came after his close friend went to purchase Chicago Blackhawks tickets from a seller he had been conversing with online. The two agreed to meet at a gas station in a town near Palos Hills. Marrotta said his friend paid the man, but the seller fled the area without turning over the tickets.

The police department would not get involved with the transactions, but Marrotta noted the police station parking lot is under video surveillance and lit and night.  

“There are a lot of online sales going on and I think this is a safer way for our residents to complete those in-person transactions,” Marrotta said.  “The only cost [to the city] is the sign [designating the area as a safe zone]. I think it’s a good idea.”

Palos Hills Police Chief Paul Madigan wasn’t ready to sign off on the safe zone just yet.

“I’m a little hesitant because there is always the threat of something happening,” Madigan said, referring to the fact arrestees are taken to the police station.

Marrotta said the police station is a public place so residents already have the option to complete transactions there, but he was still in favor of the official safe zone designation.

“I don’t see any downside to it,” he said.

After hearing Madigan’s comments, Marrotta said he would seek further input from the council, police chief and Mayor Gerald Bennett and then revisit the topic at a later date.

In other news, city attorney George Pappas told the council he expects to have an answer from the Cook County Board of Commissioners by the next meeting on Aug. 3 as to whether they approved Palos Hills’ request to acquire the property that houses the shuttered Palos Olympic Health & Racquetball Club, 11050 S. Roberts Road, through the county’s No Cash Bid program.

Palos officials voted unanimously earlier this year to direct Pappas to file the necessary documents with the county in an attempt to acquire the racquetball club property through the No Cash Bid program, which is an economic development tool designed to assist municipalities in acquiring tax delinquent property for reuse as private development and tax reactivation or for tax exempt municipal use. The property currently has around $300,000 in back taxes, according to Pappas. Palos Hills, however, would not be responsible for those taxes if it were to acquire the property through the county program.

City officials have said if they are able to obtain the property they would raze the old racquetball club building — at a likely cost of around $100,000 — and then leave the land as open space initially. The city would also consider offers from developers, Bennett has previously said.

Pappas was confident the county would grant the city the property through the No Cash Bid program.

“We’re going to get it,” he said when asked by The Reporter after the meeting.

Also at the meeting, Moraine Valley Community College professor Dr. Kristine Christensen and Palos Hills IT Coordinator Benjamin Kinney gave a brief tutorial of the city’s revamped website.

The site, www.paloshillsweb.org, officially launched this summer and took around three months to complete, Christensen said.

The site is “more user friendly,” Christensen said, and also more compatible with smartphones than the previous website.

One new feature to the site is users can easily import important events such as city council and committee meetings right into their smartphones, Christensen said.

Revamping the site came at little cost to the city, Ald. Ricky Moore (4th Ward) said. Christensen, who is a close friend of Moore’s, was given a stipend of $1,000 and Kinney is already employed by the city.

“A revamp like that would probably cost around $25,000 so we saved $24,000,” Moore said.

In addition to being pleased the city saved a considerable amount of money on the site, Moore was also very complimentary of the job Christensen and Kinney did.

“The new site is the bomb,” he said. “It looks great and it is much easier for staff and residents to use.”