Command Issue February 2018


By: Chief Gary Schira (Ret.) & Marla Friedman, Psy.D. PC, Police Psychologist

MWF: The engineer slowly rolls to a stop at the station. Behind him is a long stretch of train cars. Each car holds a piece of history that makes up the successful career of Chief Gary Schira. Chief, can you tell us how you became interested in becoming a police officer? Do you have family members who preceded you to the job? How many years have you been in law enforcement?

GJS: My father was an officer for the Chicago Police Department for 20 years (1947-1967), spending the bulk of his
Gary Schiratime as a homicide detective. He loved it! I thought I would become an MD, but later changed my focus to law enforcement. My father advised me to join a suburban police department and grow with it, rather than CPD where the sheer size limits the opportunity to have an impact. Great advice and it worked well for me.

I was in law enforcement in Illinois for almost 45 years—34 in the Bloomingdale Police Department in DuPage County (serving in various positions/ranks and as Chief of Police for the last 23 years) and then 11 years as Chief of Police of the Batavia Police Dept. in Kane County.

MWF: That’s a lot of dedication. Can you tell us about your educational background and what level of education do you recommend for new recruits?
GJS: I have a B.A. in Criminal Justice Management from Aurora University and a Masters of Public Administration from Northern Illinois University. I’m also a graduate of the FBI National Academy (141st Session), of Northwestern University’s Police Administration Training Program and of PERF’s Senior Management Institute for Police (Harvard University) to name a few.

I would recommend people aspiring to be a police officer get a bachelor’s degree in a law enforcement or communications and then, especially those who aspire to supervisory or upper management positions, pursue a graduate degree in public administration, business administration, management or a similar area of concentration to broaden their perspective, rather than law enforcement. Police officers should be “lifelong learners” and always have a “continuous improvement” mentality. It would be wise to speak, read and write Spanish as well. An emphasis on interpersonal communication would also be beneficial.

MWF: These are excellent recommendations because they are so comprehensive and it prepares them for a long and varied career, but have you noticed a lowering of the bar when it comes to hiring new officers?
GJS: I think it’s critical to ensure the selection process targets the “best and the brightest” and eliminates those applicants who have no business being a police officer and who have little probability of success in the field. A thorough background investigation, polygraph exam, drug screen, psychological exam, and a thorough interview are a “must”, to ensure applicants hired don’t later become liabilities. Leadership should stand firm on this. Emotionally mature individuals with empathy and a true “service to others” mindset make the best police officers.

MWF: I agree and I have concerns myself about some evaluators who don’t take the time and effort to fully identify qualities that produce a successful officer. On a related track, some say that the millennial generation is different than previous generations. Did you find your younger officers presented a different kind of challenge?
GJS: Hiring young officers injects new life into an organization and serves to re-energize older officers. They didn’t present a management challenge, as long as I understood what motivates them. Generally, their main focus is maximizing their “off” time. Twelve-hour shifts are very popular with them. They aren’t interested in working overtime. They “work to live”, not “live to work”. They often expect immediate gratification as to specialty assignments, promotions, etc. rather than having to “pay their dues”. On the positive side, younger officers are well versed in computer skills, social media and technology. Their interpersonal skills might be lacking, because of over-reliance on e-mail and texting as a primary means of communication.

MWF: I’ve seen the same thing. What other changes have you seen?

GJS: Law enforcement is more professional as evidenced by the leap in technology and the strides in police training and specialty positions. When I started as a police officer in 1972, I worked in a 1-man squad car as an armed police officer for 1 year BEFORE I went to a Basic Police Recruit Training Academy and I drove a squad with only an in-car police radio. Portable radios, which are now a current officer’s lifeline, didn’t exist. If you left your squad, you were on your own. Unbelievable! 

There is much more scrutiny of law enforcement and the public expects transparency in public officials to include police officers. Media exposure of negative police actions sways public opinion, when those are just the actions of a few. Police officers must realize they are in a fishbowl so should act accordingly.

MWF: How were you able to balance the needs of the department with the demands of the town or village board?
GJS: The needs of the department and the needs of the village board/ city council should be one and the same, not at cross-purposes. It’s not a competition. They are the policy makers. The chiefs use their expertise to implement those policies.

MWF: How did you juggle the job and your family time? What advice do you have for in coming officers?
GJS: My wife of 44 years, Mariann, has always been supportive of me professionally and understood my job responsibilities. Thank God for my wife, who did a fabulous job raising our two children, since I was often an “absentee” parent, missing school activities and sports events. I was immersed in my profession to a fault and I will be forever grateful for the many sacrifices made by my wife and children through the years.
I would advise incoming officers to read the book entitled, “Emotional Survival For Law Enforcement Officers and Their Families” by Dr. Kevin M Gilmartin. It’s an eye-opener and urges police officers to have more balance in their lives, to not bring the job home, to spend quality time with loved ones and have friends outside of law enforcement to have a more realistic and optimistic perspective.

MWF: That’s a lucky coincidence! Badge of Life is having our conference in Orlando, November 6-7. Bruce Sokolove, (“Coach Sok”) President of Field
Training Associates and I are presenting as well as the top law enforcement trainers in the U.S. and internationally. Kevin Gilmartin, a friend to Badge of Life will be among our presenters. All Chiefs are invited. Can you tell us about your involvement in ILACP?
GJS: As you know, I am a Past President of the ILACP (1997) and have enjoyed my involvement for over 34 years and the many friends I have made. A solid professional network is critical to one’s success! I believe in giving something back to the profession and it’s been a pleasure.
Currently, I co-chair the Ethics Committee with retired chief Russ Laine and co-chair the newly created Past Presidents Committee with retired chiefs Ray Rose and Chuck McDonald. In fact, we’re embarking on compiling a pictorial/ narrative book on the 76-year history of the ILACP, which I’m very excited about. I also serve on the Executive Board and enjoyed my time last year serving on the 75th Anniversary Planning Committee with you Marla.

MWF: Thank-you Gary, I enjoyed working with you and that committee. Everyone was so cooperative. There was a wealth of law enforcement experience in that room. On another topic, what was the most interesting case you’ve ever worked on?
GJS: The three most interesting, disturbing and difficult cases all happened when I was in Bloomingdale.
The 1st case was a homicide. A motorcycle gang had taken over a bar in town and beat and kicked a stranger to death and beyond recognition. Tough case to solve because the body was dumped elsewhere and the only witnesses were fellow gang members. With perseverance and a lot of hard work, three gang members were charged and convicted of murder.

The 2nd case was the shooting death of a grandfather sitting with his family and grandchildren in the midst of 10,000 attendees during the fireworks display of our annual 3-day festival. A convicted felon with a stolen .44 magnum revolver was having a yard party one mile away and shooting at metal drums in his backyard. He insisted his drunken girlfriend shoot the weapon and she accidentally shot the gun upwards. The bullet came down one mile away and tragically hit the grandfather while seated in his lawn chair watching the fireworks. With some tireless canvassing, interviewing and great forensics work by the DuPage County Sheriff’s Dept., the offenders were identified, charged and convicted.

MWF: Ok, another coincidence. In one of my CJ classes, that was one of the cases we studied. Great work under your leadership but what a tragic situation! The 3rd case was the rape of a 35-year-old profoundly physically and mentally disabled resident of a skilled nursing facility, who could neither move nor talk. A 19-year-old aide employed there impregnated her and her pregnancy was only discovered months later. Since the victim couldn’t speak or write, we had to wait until the baby was born and matched the baby’s DNA with that of the offender. 75 other males, who either worked there or did business there, had to be eliminated as a suspect via their DNA. Simply no respect for humanity! 

MWF: That’s horrendous, thank goodness for modern technology. You can see why this profession can leave psychological scars. What was the most troubling issue you had to deal with as Chief?
GJS: The most troubling time I had as a Chief was dealing with the suicide of two of my police officers in back-to-back years shortly after I became the Chief of Police in Batavia. Both officers were veteran officers and it shook the very foundation of the department. No one saw it coming, even their closest friends. Afterwards, we had some intense counseling sessions and I brought in two specialists in the field of police suicide, Robert Douglas and Kevin Gilmartin to conduct training for all police officers in the region. It took quite awhile to get things to normalize in the department. I wouldn’t wish this on any police chief!

MWF: That is devastating and is for any chief in that position. You handled that well. I train hundreds of FTOs in mental health and suicide prevention with Field Training Associates. I want to help them at the beginning of their careers. Did you refer officers for a Mental Health Check-In or therapy?
GJS: Both agencies where I worked had Employee Assistance Programs and all personnel were encouraged to avail themselves of this beneficial service. The Mental Health Check-In is a wise idea and being proactive is key. We must break down that emotional wall and stigma where it’s considered “weak” to admit issues or ask for help, even of a colleague.

MWF: You’re singing my song! How does it feel to be retired and what are your future plans?
GJS: It is absolutely wonderful. My whole professional life has been on a schedule. Now there’s time for family, grandchildren and friends. My wife and I bought a second home in Naples, Florida, so we’ll spend time at both of our residences. Our children and grandchildren all live in Illinois, so that will be our primary residence. I don’t have plans to work full-time, but I may be lured into some occasional consulting, management studies or police chief selections. I feel quite content in retirement and have plenty of things to do with my time. I miss “being in the loop” and miss the friends and colleagues I worked with, but the pros easily outweigh the cons. I would caution all those who are putting retirement off to reconsider. Good health is guaranteed to no one! Enjoy your much-deserved retirement while you and your spouse are still in good health.

Lastly, knowing that both the Bloomingdale and Batavia Police Departments are being led by extremely dedicated and talented Chiefs, who I had the pleasure of working with and mentor for years, puts my mind at ease. It makes me very proud.

MWF: Chief, thank you I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today. I have always enjoyed working with you.
GJS: Likewise, I’ve always enjoyed working with you, Marla, and appreciate your genuine concern for the emotional health and well being of police officers and your active participation in ILACP. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts and insights.