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Q&A: East Peoria Police Chief Catton lists recruitment, upgrades in technology among top priorities

New East Peoria Police Chief David Catton says officer recruitment is at the top of his priority list, and that retail theft is the biggest crime issue facing the city right now.
Joe Deacon
New East Peoria Police Chief David Catton says officer recruitment is at the top of his priority list, and that retail theft is the biggest crime issue facing the city right now.

New East Peoria police chief David Catton says he has several items at the top of his to-do list as the head of the department.

A law enforcement veteran, Catton brings nearly two decades of experience to his new role.

Catton says his top goals include getting the department fully staffed, providing officers with better technology and placing a greater focus on community engagement.

WCBU reporter Joe Deacon talks with Catton about his promotion and his plans for leading the East Peoria police.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

What does it mean for you personally to be promoted to Chief of the East Peoria police department?

Chief David Catton: It means a lot; I never thought I'd be here. It was never necessarily a goal for me to get to this position. But when the opportunity arises and you have confidence in yourself that you can help lead a group that needs to be led, I think you step up to that challenge and that's exactly where I was at.

So it means a lot. It means a lot to me that the (city) council has the vote of confidence in me to do this job. I take that as a credit to the work that officers that we have do with the East Peoria Police Department, because they're the ones that make me look good. So it means a lot that I've gotten to this place, because maybe the work that I've done has been fruitful.

So you've been Co-Acting Chief for a little while now. How has that role prepared you for what lies ahead?

Catton: Doing this job with the chief spot, I'm starting to get a little more comfortable in that role. You kind of forget, ‘I can make that decision.’ So those are kind of things you just have to remind yourself with the new title, but nothing really changes for the most part. I'm still going to work hard; that's been my work ethic from my father since I was a kid. So it's just continuing to work hard, and knowing that the people who I work with, they support me. They've shown that these last couple of weeks as I've done the interim role, and that's what's been important is that I’ve got the support of the department.

In your speech, you said you embrace change. What changes do you anticipate making with the police department?

Catton: So, this is what I'm most excited to talk about. I mean, I’ve got a lot of changes in my mind; we've started some of those changes now. The council has been wonderful in adopting some of those changes. Some of those are: technology. We've really increased our technology. We've really been able to outfit our officers to do the job that they need to do and have the tools to do their job. Because if you have good technology, it makes the officers’ job easier, safer and more efficient. If we're more efficient, and take out some of that human error that just happens on a day to day basis, that makes for a better outcome for everybody – for the council, the city and the community. So technology has been a big part of what I'm doing, bringing in some of those systems to help the officer on the street. That's first off.

Second off, we really need to work on more community engagement. We have struggled with that in the past – not because of anybody's decision, only just because manpower hasn't allowed for that option. But everyday you need to think of new ways and improving, and applications is the big one. We need bodies, we need people that want to be a police officer, and if we do those things that I've just talked about – bring technology, get out in the community and let people know that we're about more than just putting handcuffs on people, we're a lot more than that. I think if we do that, that drives us to be able to recruit more bodies.

You mention manpower and recruiting. Is that the biggest administrative challenge facing the department right now? What efforts are you making to improve recruitment?

Catton: So that is No. 1, that's on the top of my priority list, is: recruitment, recruitment, recruitment. It is a million-dollar question; it's a struggle that every department in this entire state is dealing with. So I would love to be the guy that says I have the crystal ball; I don't. But what we can do is we can work hard, and we can recruit, and we can do everything we can to try to get these people to come here.

The one thing that I think is helping us is – because I've gotten feedback from the new recruits – is the direction of the path that we're going. The new technology, that's what they want. They want to be able to do the things that they do at home in a squad car, and we're doing that; we're bringing that technology here. We're upping our starting pay. We have a good progressive contract, a mature contract that is one of the best in the area for a department our size. The council supports that, and that's what's great.

So those are the kinds of things we have to do to continually recruit. I’d love for the state look at the statute, the police and fire statute, and make some adjustments so we can recruit quicker and faster – because we're testing several times a year, and that never used to happen. So those are the kind of things we have to start doing our part on, and also try to push our legislators to get done.

How many vacancies do you have right now?

Catton: So we're down seven currently; we are anticipated to be down eight here in a couple of weeks. We're supposed to be a department of about 48 or 49 sworn officers, and fire department our size that's a big percentage to be down eight bodies. Everybody's working harder because of that, but that's how many we're down right now.

What initially inspired you to a career in law enforcement, and how do you share that message to attract more people to this profession?

Catton: That's a great question too, because that's exactly what I thought about driving in here today, is what brought me here. What brought me here might bring somebody else here. You’ve gotten into this job to serve people, and each person that we deal with on an everyday basis, we touch in some way or another. It can be positive or negative. But the ones that are positive are the ones that make us come in every day and to work harder today than we did yesterday, and that's what's important. It really is – it's a cliché statement I'm about to make, but – it really is to serve people. You want to help people, and some officers have lost that thought – that ‘I'm not making a difference,’ but you are. We hear those stories all the time from officers who are retired and later down in life, where they've gotten stories from people who've grown up and are walking today, to thank them. It's just serving people, and that's what it's about: Making a difference.

From a law enforcement/crime standpoint, what is the biggest issue facing the East Peoria Police Department right now?

Catton: Right now, our biggest crime problem is retail thefts. Retail is the biggest problem; I know it’s a national problem (and) we're not immune to that problem as well. We're a big retail space in this city and downtown, and that's been our biggest challenge.

Our numbers are way up. We're about two to three times more calls a month than we have been in the past. We used to run about 24 retail thefts a month; we're averaging 68 to 70 [calls] a month. So it's a high, high number and that has been the biggest challenge. That's something we want to work on too; we want to reach out to the businesses – we've reached out to some of them already – and try to collaborate the best we can in order to work together. Because ultimately, that's what we've got to have, is their ability to work with us and help secure some of their issues that they're having in their stores.

How of an issue has auto crime and auto-related crimes been in East Peoria?

Catton: It's an issue. It's an issue that we're dealing with on a weekly basis. We're not seeing it at the levels that Peoria is seeing it, but it's close enough that we're going to be seeing it and we have seen it already. People have to be vigilant, lock their cars and do everything that they need to do in that aspect because that's the only way it's going to help solve it – even though that's not the method they're using right now.

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.