New 17th commander discusses crime
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Elias Voulgaris said that since he took over as the 17th (Albany Park) Police District commander in June, he has worked to increase community involvement and use old-fashioned police work to deal with a recent increase in shootings and gang activity.
"I’m well aware of the situations here in the district, and it got a lot calmer and quieter since I remember, so that’s a good thing," Voulgaris said. "I’m hearing a lot of people complaining who are worried about the shootings, so that’s the number one priority right now, followed by robberies and burglaries and quality of life issues."
Voulgaris, age 54, has been on the police force since 1985, when he began working in the old 23rd (Town Hall) District. The 23rd District merged with the old 19th (Belmont) District in 2012 as part of a consolidation. Voulgaris worked in the 17th District from 1986 to 1994, as a police officer and tactical officer.
Voulgaris said that he was the commander of the former Targeted Response Unit before he was brought back to captain rank under former police superintendent Jody Weiss. He’s also worked in the 24th District, the old 13th District and the 10th District.
Voulgaris said that shootings have increased recently but that other crimes have decreased or are at average levels for this time of the year. "I’ve heard positives from people who say that it is still a safe area and we want to continue to keep it like that," he said.
Voulgaris attended Amundsen High School and then Loyola Academy, and he has a bachelor’s degree from National Louis University and a master of public administration degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He is married and has a boy and twin girls.
"There was a lot more gang activity in those early years in the 17th, especially around Lawrence and Kedzie," Voulgaris said. "They were a little bit more hard-core gang members. Now I would call it the remnants of what was once here and a lot of wanna-be gang bangers."
In order to prevent crime, Voulgaris said, "You want us stopping the gang bangers, documenting the stops, showing them that we are around, and if they are doing something minor we’re going to issue them a citation and if they are doing something major they are going to be arrested, but it’s basically about being visible and stopping the right people at the right time."
Voulgaris said that he has been working to increase the involvement of residents with the police.
"First of all you need the trust of the community," Voulgaris said. "Second of all you need the community to partake in some of the programs that we have. We have so many CAPS programs, we just did ‘Night Out,’ and over 400 people showed up, which is fantastic.
"We need more of that. We need to work with the community so that they are not afraid to turn in the bad guys, and there are a lot ways we can do it and of course we would never place anyone in jeopardy."
Voulgaris encourages people to call the police if they see people acting suspiciously. "Neighbors know who belongs in a neighborhood, neighbors know who is delivering, neighbors know what’s going on, and we need more neighborhood involvement," he said.
Voulgaris said that he is pleased that he is seeing residents calling the district to report suspicious activity. He said that police superintendent Gary McCarthy wants officers to be more engaged with the community so he would increase foot patrols and bike patrols.
"We will do that, we will be visiting block parties, and I’m very accessible and I’m going to continue that practice," Voulgaris said. "I’m a big fan of positive loitering, which includes an outdoor roll call with the residents of the neighborhood."
Voulgaris said that he would like to see more residents attend beat meetings. "Beat meetings need to be problem-solving meetings and not people shouting or complaining about this or that," he said.
Voulgaris said that he also is dealing with quality of life issues such as drinking in the public way. "First of all it’s a nuisance and you don’t want that in the neighborhood, and second, the person you are stopping might have a warrant, might be a burglar or what have you," he said.
Voulgaris said that there are a variety of strategies to deal with serious crimes including using Comp Stat, which is a tool that shows where crimes are occurring or are likely to occur. "You can look at a chart in a neighborhood and see where robberies are occurring, so you want to put some resources there," he said.
Voulgaris also said that he also will work to fight homelessness in the district. "I want officers who are trained in crisis intervention to deal with individuals who are suffering from mental illness or are homeless because they are better equipped educationally to deal with them."
Voulgaris said that the 17th District does not have a lockup at the station. The city closed the lockup in 2011 as part of a plan to put more officers on the street. Now, men who are arrested in the 17th District are transported to the lockup at the 16th District police station, 5151 N. Milwaukee Ave.