MAPLE PARK – Walking into the Maple Park Police Department on a Saturday night feels like a journey to a kid’s birthday party.
There are youths shooting baskets at a mini-hoop. Others play video games. Some play foosball or munch on hot dogs. Even more go in and out of the “movie room,” an area that actually resembles a mini-movie theater.
Coordinators Josh Salisbury and Kevin Brown, with whistles around their necks, maintain order.
Friday and Saturday nights are drop-in nights at the department, 302 Willow St. in Maple Park, for kids 7 and older. They are welcome from 6 to 9 p.m. in an effort to help youths have an enjoyable time at the police department and provide some weekend entertainment. The program is in its third year.
“Maple Park is a very small community, and there’s not much going on,” Salisbury said. “You would much rather they be in here.”
Skylar Martin, an 8-year-old from Maple Park, was there Sept. 14 with her siblings. She was in the movie room, but it was more about chatting with friends, playing games or eating popcorn. She said she’s been coming for months.
“They show a movie or two, you get free popcorn and you can mess around with your friends,” Skylar said. “I make a lot of friends here.”
In her group were twins Charlotte and Ben Martin, 11, and 10-year-old Dakota Huffnus. They moved from room to room, sometimes playing games or settling down to watch cartoons.
Salisbury said Maple Park Police Chief Mike Acosta brought him the idea, and he and Brown were on board. Salibury works for the Montgomery Fire Department and the Kane County Sheriff’s Office. Both Salisbury and Brown are emergency medical technicians.
Although Salisbury uses a cane to get around – he lives with cerebral palsy – he said it’s not difficult for him and Brown to keep track of the kids. And Salisbury said it’s definitely a two-person job.
Noise is constant, but when the screaming gets too intense or kids’ brisk pace turns to running, the whistles come out.
The sessions happen nearly every weekend, with rare exceptions. There is no cost. Salisbury said there are rules – discipline, at times, is needed. If there’s fighting, the youths are done for the night. But mostly, he said, there will be a few hours of fun and the kids go home happy. Salisbury said the regulars have grown to trust him, and he has helped them talk about issues such as bullying. He said the experience feels special.
“I haven’t heard of other police departments that do this,” he said.