The 15th Police District is trying to build relationships with the Austin community it serves, one block at a time. Leadership starts at the top with Commander Alfonza Wysinger, who grew up on Chicago’s West Side. As a result, his understanding of the Austin community comes from direct experience. Because Westsiders’ experience with the police has in the past too often been adversarial, someone with a background in the community can help defuse volatile situations.

In October 2005, the 15th District moved from its ancient Chicago Avenue location to a much larger, state-of-the-art building at 5701 W. Madison St. The new location looks more like a headquarters building, and if you did not see personnel in uniforms, you would not believe this was a police district. The district’s previous commander (Eugene Williams) was promoted to assistant deputy superintendent in July 2005.

Commander Wysinger speaks quietly, almost peacefully, but with an air of authority.

AWN: How’s the new location?

Wysinger: It is a great improvement over the old facility on Chicago Avenue. It gives us more space-not just processing space but additional parking space. And it also gives us a community room where we actually have various meetings here. We have various CAPS meetings, business meetings, subcommittee meetings, Boy Scouts meetings, just about any kind of meeting you can imagine-just to let the community know there is another side to the Austin district police station.

AWN: Has communication with the community improved?

Wysinger: I think it’s definitely a better relationship, and I think that really goes back to the core-with me being actually from Austin. When I got here, day one, I made sure that everyone knew I was from Austin. Austin holds a special place in my heart, and I was going to hold them to a higher standard, and they would have to be more accountable to the citizens of Austin. Being a citizen from Austin, I’ve experienced things that used to go on here, back in the day. I was very steadfast to make sure those kind of things would not be tolerated. That goes across the board, and I think everybody understands where I’m coming from.

AWN: Where did you grow up?

Wysinger: Born and raised in North Lawndale, moved to Austin in 1976.

AWN: I understand you had a well-known Westsider as one of your school teachers.

Wysinger: Yes, Mrs. Vera Davis [wife of Cong. Danny Davis, 7th District] was one of my teachers over at Collins High School. We still try to stay in touch when we can, and she has always been an inspiration [In a previous interview, Vera told AWN: “I remember Al as being a outstanding COBRA (Mascot) member at Collins. He was a very good student, mannerable and intelligent.”]

AWN: Do you have a family?

Wysinger: I’m married with one daughter. In fact, we’re expecting our fist grandchild this July. My wife’s name is Marjet, and my daughter is Shenika.

AWN: The situation on Parkside where the officer shot the dog-has that situation been resolved or are there still issues out there between the department and the community?

Wysinger: The situation is still being reviewed by our Internal Affairs Division. We’ve had several meetings with the community as far as the relationship between the community and the officers of the 15th District that was strong and remains strong to this day. I think that may have been one of the things that kept the situation from blowing up to something bigger and worse than it actually was that day. The respect and the rapport the officers from Austin had with the community in general with that particular block kind of worked in our favor to defuse quite a bit of that.

AWN: Where does the Austin community stand with crime and drugs?

Wysinger: Crime in general is down in Austin all across the board, but we do lead the city because of narcotic sales. That is our biggest thorn-in-the-side. That’s one of the calls I get the most-that I get the most complaints from the community. With my narcotics background and my expertise, that is one of things we need to attack. We just formed a narcotics task force, Feb. 1, that we’re implementing and putting into place and go out now to combat some of the narcotics locations in the Austin community. [We’ve] started to work in-house-I and one of my tactical lieutenants and tactical sergeants sat down, along with the deputy chief of Area 5. We brainstormed and came up with this idea that we just use some of the resources that we have inside Austin to try to attack this. And we’ve got other strategies in place where we get help from some of the outsiders to come over here and give us a hand.