“I grew up on the South Side of Chicago during the time of Blackstone Rangers and Gangster Disciples.”

“You could call us a middle-income family. My dad was a World War II veteran. In my little enclave, parents owned their own homes, but we still had issues with gangs in our area and young people joining. You either join or you suffer the consequences.”

“My dad taught me, ‘God gave you a brain to think for yourself.’ He impressed that upon me all the time, ‘If you get involved with gangs and you do things wrong … these guys aren’t gonna help you.’ So, I saw it as a dead-end street with no way out, but I knew the reasons why some of my friends turned to that kind of life.”

“I got out of the service in 1974 and had a buddy out in DeKalb taking a test for corrections, in juvenile detention. So, I took the test in Saint Charles on a Wednesday and they called me right back, wanted me to start right away. I worked in the Department of Corrections for 3.5 years.”

“Working with those kids gave me perspective on how screwed-up some of these kids were. We had murderers, rapists, thieves, gang bangers, drug dealers, you name it. I saw how truly damaged these young kids were, and I really got into trying to mentor some of these kids and help show them the error of their ways and how they could succeed when they left.”

“That helped me when I became a police officer. I am a community-oriented type person. I believe in people. I believe in humanity. I’ve seen good kids join gangs because they feel like they have no other way out.”

“Empathy should be a core part of any police officer. You can try to train that and explain that in the hopes that they get it, and once they’re out on their own it’s happening. Once you get out of training, that shouldn’t be the end. Once you become a full-fledged officer out on your own, the emphasis on empathy shouldn’t end in the academy. That should be pushed constantly through the upper echelon of those police departments.”

“Every interaction with every citizen should start with a ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.’ ‘Mr. Jones, how are you today?’ ‘Mrs. Jones, how are you today?’ I think we need to show that initial respect. Those two small words could possibly set a completely new culture.”

“We had a homicide in Aurora many years ago when I first was on the job. A woman was found killed in the basement of a house. I was on patrol at the time and I had a gentleman from the community walk up to me and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got some information on this homicide. I’m gonna tell you. I’ll give you a name.’ So, I asked the detectives what they had on the case and gave them the information I had been given. Three people were involved, including the person who approached me just because he was there. But this matters, because I’d had positive interactions with this individual. I’d had positive communications with him. He felt comfortable talking with me. He trusted me.”

“I say this to show, when you go out into the community and you’ve had positive impacts with people, one of those people could save your life. They’ll know you. They’ll know your heart. You’re not out there abusing them or cheap-shotting them.”

“Especially today, you hear that you can’t get people out of the training programs because they have no communication skills. So, they’re coming on a job and they can’t talk to folks, and many don’t make it through the program.”

“We can’t continue to police the way we have for the past 50-odd years. It was meant to be racist from the beginning.”

“We have to clear up the impediment of discipline in police departments.00

“Any incident you have a complaint on has to be addressed immediately and adjudicated. When it comes to police brutality, you have to look at sustained complaints. We had an early warning system – if you have three incidents of being charged with battery, we need to investigate that officer, maybe relieve him of duties, retrain him or monitor him on calls. If it continues, suspension or firing should be done. It should never get to the point where you get 10, 12, 15 sustained cases. There needs to be some type of penalty to those types of egregious complaints.”

“Police unions don’t want anything taken away from what officers have right now. Those unions wield a whole lot of power. In Aurora, we had one of the strongest police unions in the state at one time, and I had issues when I was the chief of police and they had issues with me, because of some of the changes I was making.”

“I suspended a guy for 10-15 days once, and the arbitrator reduced it to three days. That’s where the unions get their power. The unions know who the union-friendly arbitrators are. When you go to arbitration, we should address how arbitrators are picked.”

“The majority of cops are good cops. But we have a cultural phenomenon that’s going on right now. The appearance is, in our country, that white cops don’t like Black folks and Hispanic folks. So from these communities, you’re getting the reaction that every police officer is bad, even African-American officers. It’s not a Black-white issue, it’s a policing issue.”

“Right, wrong or indifferent, we have to do everything we can to change that perception. What do they say about perception – that it’s reality? We have to do something to change the perception in Black and Hispanic communities.”

“How do you change peoples’ minds? We’ve got to go back to basics because this isn’t going to go away overnight. We need to get a handle on how we do what we do so we can evolve over the next 5-10 years.”

Bill Powell
Former Aurora police chief
Aurora, Illinois