DARIEN, Ill. - "I just didn't believe this," said Lt. Col. Timothy Tyler, 416th Theater Engineer Command, chief finance officer, upon him receiving an award for Extraordinary Leaders Impacting Today's Environment referred to as ELITE.

The winners were recognized for extraordinary work in schools, churches, families and communities. Tyler is one of 22 award winners - 17 individuals and five organizations - by the grass roots organization Center for Racial Harmony whose mission is to increase understanding, cooperation, and communication among all races and ethnic groups.

Tyler has spent a majority of his almost 22-year career as an Illinois State trooper combating gang violence. His experience has led him to come to some conclusions about what the underlying causes for youth and gang membership.

"The youths are often lacking the basics like food and clothing. The gangs see this and they are winning the faith of the youth by letting them be lookouts for the gang and buying them clothes and food to win the trust," he said and added, "We don't teach young police officers to engage the community outside of the police roll and there is no emphasis on community policing programs," he said.

Once a month he and other volunteers bring food to feed kids in the housing projects and pass out hygiene kits which contain toothbrush, soap, brushes to the kids. Also his police unit is doing a coat drive to help circumvent the gangs. It's about basic needs.

Tyler, who has recently been made the commander of two Illinois police districts, says it is about motivation and encouragement.

"We cannot arrest ourselves out of the problem. Prevention education and rehabilitation is the answer to our overcrowding jails," he said.

Another major effort is to take the police out of being an occupying force and make them part of the community. For too long police are only taught only to do traffic stops and weapon usage but they are not taught to work with the community.

"All police need to focus on building police community relations and it all starts with basic level, basic entry training. Like we do in the Army. We take are weapons qualification, fitness tests and other basic education. We should be mandatory training to build these relations," Tyler said.
It takes a lot of resources.

Tyler was instrumental in creating a midnight basketball team in East St. Louis, Illinois, for 18- to 35-year-olds who may otherwise be out drinking or what not.

Tyler added, "I am working with the U.S. State's attorney and other civic groups to develop strategies to improve community relations."

He works with schools, parent teacher associations, the NAACP and other nonprofit organizations to develop plans and resources.

His efforts are hopefully having some effect. This year East St. Louis has seen half the amount of murders through the same time period this year which is a 50 percent reduction.

"I don't know how many times I've talked to a young man or lady and told them about gang violence and a month or six months later they ended up dead," Tyler said as he looked down.

With his promotion to commander of two Illinois State Police districts, community involvement and persevering motivation, Tyler plans to fight further gang violence but not with force but understanding, education and teamwork.

He is part of a speaker's bureau where he speaks to hundreds of kids about gangs and how to work with the police.

He stresses, "I just believe in this! I am doing with what I felt was the right thing to do."