Safety Town began in 1978, when the Naperville Junior Woman’s Club and a police officer named A. George Pradel partnered up to teach children in schools about safety.
“Safety Town started about 40 years ago with him going into the schools and he would set up cardboard houses and they’d ride their bikes around the junior highs and he’d do a summer program just to teach safety and teach children that the police were their friends,” said Safety Town Commission Vice President Heather Queen.
It was through these programs that Pradel’s enthusiasm for children, teaching, and safety earned him the nickname “Officer Friendly.”
His miniature village and outreach to schools were ahead of their time.
“I think he started community policing in our police department a long time ago before it was talked about in law enforcement,” said Naperville Chief of Police Robert Marshall, who also served as an officer with Pradel. “And really community policing is just creating a partnership with the citizens to keep them safe.”
Safety Town grew in popularity and the Safety Town Commission decided to create a permanent location, which was completed in 1996.
And even after Officer Friendly became Mayor Pradel, he stayed involved with the organization.
“I remember a few years back, probably about seven or eight years ago, budget was getting a little tighter and the police had to cut back their hours that they could work here in the summer and teach the kids,” said Queen. “And he just couldn’t believe it so he put on his park district police uniform and he came out every week and taught the kids.”
It was that kind of commitment that led to the Naperville Junior Women’s Club and Safety Town Commission to rename the site in 2015 to the A. George and Patricia Pradel Safety Town of Naperville.
Pradel may have shaped Naperville more during his time as mayor, but he impacted countless young lives as Officer Friendly.
Naperville News 17’s Casey Krajewski reports.