By LOGAN WHEELER, NEWS3 Guest Reporter
MACOMB, Illinois (NEWS3) – The City of Macomb is creating a new park in town to be named after the city’s first Black police officer.
The William H. Thorpe Memorial Park will be developed on a lot located at the foreigner of East Pierce and North Griffin streets. Thorpe was the first black police officer of Macomb. Thorpe was born and raised in Macomb and attended Western Illinois University. After college Thorpe served in the United States Army and fought in the Korean War.
Thorpe originally took the police entrance exam to prove that Macomb would not hire a Black police officer. To his surprise he was offered the job and served the city of Macomb for 23 years. He even reached the rank of sergeant during that time. Thorpe faced many challenges in policing a predominantly White neighborhood, and current Macomb Police Chief Jerel Jones spoke about some of the challenges that Thorpe and himself have faced about being the first Black police officer and police chief in Macomb.
“The profession has not always been very welcoming to minority individuals, whether that be African American, females and I can keep going, Hispanic officers, etcetera,” Jones said. “And so Mr. Thorpe and my grandfather had a very similar path in the earlier parts of their careers, and I would say even going into the latter parts of their careers because there’s still a lot of work to be done in society. And so he is very influential, even though he has passed on, but he has left a lot of good nuggets for younger law enforcement professionals and let alone executives such as myself, an African American police chief.
Chief Jones has lived in Macomb for more than 20 years and has spent many years in the law enforcement field. One of Chief Jones’ top goals is to continue the diversification of Macomb’s Police Department.
“We need officers from all walks of life serving on this department and many other departments throughout our country because our officers must be able to relate to our community members and even our visitors,” Jones said. “Our stakeholders here, uniquely in Macomb, as we are home to an institution of higher education that being Western Illinois University, our officers have to relate to the student population as well that we serve all-year round.”
Sgt. Thorpe retired in 1984. Years later Thorpe began working at WIU as a GoWest bus driver. Thorpe worked for GoWest for 10 years and even earned the Driver of the Year Award during the 2012-2013 school year. Through his time as the Chief of the Office of Public Safety at WIU, Jones got to interact with Thorpe and spoke about his character and demeanor.
“I rode his line going to one of his classes as an undergraduate student,” Jones said. “He was always quiet but a man that I grew to know personally from attending local events and being in church with him and his beautiful wife Miss Helen, and I always remember him being in a sharp gray suit and a big ‘ol smile on his face.”
Chief Jones still looks up to Sgt. Thorpe. Jones and the Macomb Police Department plan to help develop the William H. Thorpe Memorial Park as much as they can. The park is still in the early stages of development but is planned to be a place where all are welcome.