Dressed casually, the teacher for Thursday night’s criminal justice class at Elgin Community College is more than she appears. She is Chief Ana Lalley, a 24-year veteran of the Elgin Police Department (EPD) and a 12-year instructor at the college.
Through teaching, Lalley gets to know her students and have an impact on what they are learning. This is important to a police chief who sees value in recruiting officers from the community.
“When you’re in the classroom, seeing someone for three or four months, there’s a personal relationship,” said Lalley. “Because the students come from surrounding communities, they’re in tune with what’s going on in Elgin policing—our philosophy, our community engagement.”
Lalley’s ability to teach law enforcement procedures, community engagement practices, and the use of modern technology in police work makes ECC an ideal training ground for future EPD officers. However, until this summer, working for the EPD meant having a four-year degree, military service, or a job with the city to qualify for the entrance exam.
When ECC criminal justice instructional coordinator Todd Ramljak, a 20-year veteran officer, proposed a policy change that would permit ECC students to test with a two-year degree, Lalley strongly endorsed the idea.
“Changing the requirement is the perfect opportunity to allow students to take the exam, especially students who we know are excited to become police officers,” said Lalley. “For me, it is the perfect fit.”
Ramljak notes recruiting ECC students has other advantages. ECC instructors have decades of experience in the field. The curriculum covers critical topics, such as community-based policing, crisis and conflict mediation, report writing, stress management, and forensic science. But what truly sets ECC’s program apart is the training with local law enforcement that is woven into the curriculum. As a result, ECC criminal justice graduates already have firsthand knowledge of EPD’s operations.
“Recruiting locally means having officers who know the area, the neighborhoods, and the values of the community. This knowledge can shape an officer’s interactions. When you live here, you also live with the effects of your actions,” said Ramljak, who spearheaded the policy change request that was approved unanimously by the Elgin City Council in July 2019. Another benefit to Elgin is the opportunity to increase the diversity of its applicant pool with ECC’s 54 percent female and 45 percent Latinx enrollment.
Important to Lalley is the ability to interest students in becoming part of law enforcement, especially at EPD. “We encourage innovation. We encourage people to think differently and to not be afraid to say I have this great concept that I want to try,” said Lalley. “[The students] see opportunity and they see a department that embraces diversity, embraces inclusion.”
By working in partnership, ECC and EPD are creating opportunities for well-educated and well-prepared recruits to serve the community they call home.