Officials intent on building a safer downtown, a year after schoolteacher’s killing
By Susan Frick Carlman ~ firstname.lastname@example.org February 5, 2013 5:22PM
A Naperville police officer drives past BlackFinn American Saloon while patrolling downtown Naperville on Monday, February 4, 2013. Naperville police have increased their presence nightly in the area following a number of violent incidents inside and outside downtown bars, including the 2012 stabbing death of Shaun Wild inside Frankie's Blue Room. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 7, 2013 6:19AM
In the year since Shaun Wild was killed, Naperville police have stepped up their vigilance in the area where the elementary school teacher died while reportedly trying to intervene in a bar fight. They’re still making arrests in the area, but for assorted reasons, most of the charges are different from what they were then.
That’s one way the landscape has altered since the early morning hours of Feb. 4, 2012, when the 24-year-old Wild, a North Central College graduate and second-grade teacher at Spring Brook Elementary School, was fatally stabbed in an incident at Frankies Blue Room.
Naperville resident Daniel Olaska, 28, was charged with murdering Wild and injuring two others and is in DuPage County Jail awaiting trial.
One of those hurt in the fight, then-North Central senior William Hayes, has recovered and left campus with a diploma in hand. Gary Ireland, director of student development, assistant dean of students and football chaplain, said Hayes observed the somber anniversary of Wild’s death with his family.
“They got away this weekend to reflect a little bit,” said Ireland, who got to know both Hayes and Wild when they played for North Central’s team.
Many others in Wild’s circle honored his memory online when the anniversary of the tragedy came around Monday.
“Facebook yesterday was absolutely flooded with memories, tributes to Shaun,” Ireland said Tuesday. “He loved the word ‘epic,’ so there were a lot of students echoing the theme that they’re going to live ‘an epic life.’”
Healing is not yet complete, however — perhaps, Ireland said, because the suspect in Wild’s death has yet to be tried for the crimes. But he knows they’ll eventually move on.
“You have to, and the students will,” he said.
The vicinity where Wild passed away has seen improvement over the past year, though. Downtown Naperville – also the site of a non-fatal stabbing at BlackFinn American Saloon in March 2011 - has had heavier police patrols late at night on weekends, particularly in the past several months.
Police Chief Bob Marshall said troubles began to develop anew last fall, after the officers assigned to junior high and high schools in town wrapped up their summer assignments patrolling the downtown on weekends.
“We decreased police presence in the downtown, because they were back in school, and then we had three violent crimes downtown,” said Marshall, who saw it as enough of a trend to act.
“It was a relatively small number, but it was three violent crimes in a short time, two violent fights and an armed robbery.”
Authorities resolved to hold bar owners more accountable, Marshall said, and he allocated overtime hours for four additional officers to cover the downtown detail Fridays and Saturdays between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. The beefed-up presence is credited with a decline in violence in recent months. Downtown incidents on Friday and Saturday nights now are more commonly about patrons being angered over a bartender refusing service.
“We changed our approach as a police department from being more reactive to being more proactive,” Marshall said. “And I’m very pleased with the response from many of the establishments in the downtown. We’re not doing this alone. It’s really a collaborative approach to making sure the downtown is a pleasant place to visit.”
At least one former cop, now off the beat for nearly two decades, thinks it was the right way to go.
“They’re the eyes and ears of the area,” said Mayor A. George Pradel. “So this change is very healthy, and something that I’ve wanted in the 18, 19 years I’ve been in office.”
Teamwork at work
In his role as the city’s liquor commissioner, Pradel has been addressing some of the problems arising from lax adherence to local codes.
“I think prevention is really an important part of it. And also it has to do with the establishments downtown cooperating,” he said. “They want the police to be there, so they can have control.”
Control also is enhanced when employees are vigilant for patrons who are overserved or underage, or both. The city requires anyone who serves alcohol to complete Beverage Alcohol Seller Education Training. So far, more than 5,100 people have taken the course.
They appear to have gotten better at spotting those posing to be older than they are. Tickets given out to underage drinkers increased 72 percent in 2012 over the previous year, and skyrocketed by 360 percent in the last quarter of 2012 and first week of January, compared to the same period in 2011.
Marshall acknowledged that the actual numbers are again fairly small, at just 23 citations over that recent 100-day span, but the active role played by the taverns’ management is what matters.
“That’s a key. You don’t want underage people in your bars drinking,” he said. “I think the bars are taking that very seriously.”
The chief said he plans to complete a report on the effects and costs of the added police presence and present it to City Manager Doug Krieger this week. Meanwhile, the mayor wants to see the partnerships grow stronger.
“I just think we need to embellish on the change from reaction to proactive, and support it 100 percent,” he said. “It may cause us to have more officers down there, and we’ll look at our budget. But it’s worth it to have everybody together to support it … I can’t change a perception, and neither can the police change a perception. It’s got to be changed by everybody.”