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Morton Grove's new chief stresses community policing, crime prevention

April 22, 2014

After Morton Grove Mayor Dan DiMaria announced the village has chosen Michael Simo as its police chief, we sat down with Simo, 56, to learn more about him and find out what he envisions for Morton Grove. Here's what Simo ¬— who will be sworn in as chief on April 28 and officially start on May 5 — had to say.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

A: I've been working at the Addison Police Department for 22 years. I started in 1980 and was a patrol officer for nine years, a detective for 10, a sergeant for six years, a watch commander for about a year, and became a deputy chief in 2006. I started in the patrol division for four years, and in early 2010, I transferred into the support services division. Our department is divided into patrol and support services — support services are responsible for investigations, records, communications, property and evidence, the red light photo enforcement program and crime prevention.

On the personal side, I've been married 29 years and have four kids. My oldest is an elementary school teacher, and the next one is a pediatric intensive care nurse. My son is a college student, and my youngest is graduating from high school this year and will be attending college.

Q: Are you planning to move to Morton Grove?

A: I live in DuPage County, and near I-294, so the commute is not that bad. For right now I'll stay here; we'll be considering moving later.

Q: What is it about Morton Grove that attracted you?

A: Other than size — Addison is a little bigger, but Morton Grove is kind of similar, a nice solid community — it seems to be well run; the mayor and board are very committed. There's good village government. I was ready to make a little change in my career and they were looking for a chief at the time I was looking to be a police chief, so it was a good fit. The chief here in Addison is about a year older than I am and not ready to retire.

Q: What are some new policing methods or techniques that you learned at the FBI Academy, or in your masters program at Lewis University, that you would want to put into practice in Morton Grove?

A: One thing I learned over the years, whether in class or through experience, is that crime prevention and community relations programs are very important. I'm not real familiar with what they have in place in Morton Grove, but a lot of things can be done. In Addison, we have a citizens police academy. Those are great; every time you do one, you make 10 or 20 new friends for the police department. I'd like to look at what we're doing in elementary schools as far as interacting with school kids. I'd like to look at the website, Facebook and Twitter. Social media stuff is a way to get information out to the public, especially in an emergency.

Q: Do you think Morton Grove needs a new police station?

A: I know the mayor and board are excited about that and want to get going on that as quickly as they can. It's good for the officers to have.

I like the fact the police station now is in a residential neighborhood. It's a neat place to have it, but you have to be looking forward and seeing what you can do in the future. Building a new one is important; I think it definitely should be done.

Q: What approaches will you take to fighting gang crime?

A: I think the officers have to be out there in the neighborhoods and get to know people in the neighborhoods and cultivate relationships. Intelligence in gang work is always very important. In DuPage county we have meetings of our gang investigators where they share intelligence, and they keep active databases on gang members. If something happens, they know where to go and who to talk to to solve these. You have to show these people you're not going to ignore them and you're going to address them. That would definitely be a priority.

Q: What approaches will you take to fighting drug crime?

A: Again, there are task forces out there that are investigative units that keep track of what's going on in the community. A lot of times, [it's] just paying attention. It's a little hard for me to answer that because I haven't really gotten in there to see what the issues are. But watching for that stuff and addressing it as soon as we see it would probably be the way we would address it.

Q: Are you concerned that with the medical marijuana law, there might be a lot more marijuana floating around?

A: I have a lot of sympathy for somebody that's sick and in pain and I would never want to deprive them of a way to feel better. But it kind of goes against the grain for me to say that medical marijuana is the thing that's going to fix all their problems. I think there are other narcotics available that would do almost as good a job. I think it's the start of a path we might not want to go down as a society. But it's here and we have to accept it.

Q: Police departments have become heavy users of technology. Are there any new technologies you would want to see in Morton Grove?

A: I haven't really gotten in there to see what technology Morton Grove has now. But, managing all this technology is an issue in law enforcement now. If you have 15 squad cars, that's 10 or 15 computers and 10 or 15 in-car video cameras, and they have to talk to each other. There's a system to upload the video. Sometimes the software doesn't talk to each other, and it has to be upgraded or replaced every few years.

All this technology is great, but sometimes it's kind of tough to manage. That's kind of a challenge in police departments now. You have to keep an eye on it to make sure it works like it's supposed to work.

There's now a service, LeadsOnline, where pawn shops record things they bring in and police departments can compare it against lists of stolen items. A lot of property is recovered that way. You need the money to do it and the IT staff to manage it. Sometimes you have one but you might not have the other.

We have to get in there to see how it applies to Morton Grove.

Q: Tell us about your experience with the building of the Addison dispatch center.

A: We started the Addison communications center project in 2010. We identified a need for a combined dispatch center. We felt if we were able to make our center a little larger, we could bring in other communities and dispatch for them. It occurred around the same time DuPage County police and fire departments went to StarCom, a Motorola communications system. It was a good opportunity because everyone had the same radio system we did. So we had to enlarge our communications facility.

My responsibility was the construction. It was an internal remodeling. We pretty much doubled the size of the communications center.

I had to work with the architect, the budget and contractors. It was a fairly smooth construction project. We were able to build a six-position communications center with room for two or three more positions. Addison now dispatches for Bloomingdale and Bensenville, and that brings in revenue from those communities.

It took about a year, and was completed in 2011. The budget was about half a million.

Q: Any other thoughts?

A: I'm really excited to be doing this. Morton Grove seems like a great community, Everyone's been so welcoming, the mayor, board and Deputy Chiefs Fennelly and Stromberg. I'm a little sorry to be leaving Addison, but really happy to be coming to Morton Grove. I'm ready to hit the ground running.

Q: Did you have a longtime desire to be a police chief?

A: To be chief had been a goal of mine. As you go through your career, you keep getting to the next level and you realize you'd be capable of doing it. It is a nice way to end your career. Most people get into police work because it's interesting and an opportunity to help people. You go through your career, rise through the ranks and then you realize you're capable of leading it at a top level and you decide to go for it. That's what happened with me.


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