Maple Park residents on April 30 had an opportunity to show outgoing Police Chief Mike Acosta what he means to them during his retirement open house.
Acosta will officially step down from the department on May 13.
“I was quite amazed to see how many people came out,” Acosta said. “It really touched my heart.”
About 50 people came to say goodbye and wish him well, and to give him a going away gift of a shadow box containing his retirement badge and picture.
“I count everyone here as family,” Acosta said. “It’s good to see they counted me as family, too.”
When Acosta was sworn in in January 2010, he told the Village Board he would give them a police department they could be proud of.
Village President Kathy Curtis said Acosta delivered on his vision of getting to know the people in the community, especially the young people.
In addition to the relationships he has developed with residents, Acosta has brought professionalism and stability to the Maple Park Police Department, Curtis said.
“He has respect for the residents and he knows how to enforce the law and keep a good balance,” she said. “He’s community policing at its best.”
Acosta said he’s most proud of creating the village’s drop-in center for Maple Park youth. With a pool table and other games, a big-screen TV for movies and free popcorn, the Police Department drop-in center provides a safe place for young people to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights.
The center serves about 1,000 kids a year, giving them a place to go and an opportunity to get to know the police as people. Acosta said he believes it’s important to be able to positively influence kids at an early age.
Acosta will leave the department in good hands. Sgt. Tony Ayala was sworn in as the new chief last week. Acosta will hang around until May 13 to make sure the transition is a smooth one.
“I think he will do a great job,” Acosta said of Ayala. “He has the same love for community and policing and the youth of today. It seemed just natural for him to take over.”
Ayala, who has been with the police department the past three years, said Acosta has been a mentor to him, and that working under Acosta has been a really good experience.
“A lot of people respect the department because of him,” Ayala said. “I’ve worked really hard to maintain that strong relationship with our community. We’re in a very good place.”
Ayala, who has been with the Northern Illinois University Department of Police and Public Safety since 2000, went back to school in 2005 to get his degree in criminal justice. He also completed a 10-week course in command staff with Northwestern University in order to better prepare himself for a top leadership role.
Acosta, 62, made the decision to retire from the Maple Park Police Department after 40 years of law enforcement in order to spend more time with his wife of 27 years, Karen, and his family.
He said the recent deaths of two members of Karen’s family have reinforced for both of them the importance of family and time spent together.
Acosta plans to continue to be involved with the Maple Park Special Olympics fundraising campaign. The Maple Park Police Department has been recognized as one of the two top fundraisers for Illinois for Special Olympics the past three years.
“People out here have such big hearts,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to miss.”