Five years in, I finally tell you why I do what I do

Ed Wojcicki
By Ed Wojcicki

In Command magazine (publication of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police)
March 2020

Late last year I observed my fifth anniversary as executive director. I am honored to be here, and I want to tell you why.

I love what I do and I do what I do because You. Love. What. You. Do. It’s that simple. All of you loved your initial calling to be the police, and now you are the police leaders in Illinois. All I do is try to find ways to support that. In a retrospective column like this, it’s common to say “I’m not going to name names because I will forget somebody.” Screw that. There are too many great people in this association not to name names.

Illinois Chiefs walk in paradeJohn Furcon, who was part of the search committee that got me here, reminded me early on that everybody in this organization had spent some time early in your careers in fist fights with bad guys. Those fights and those glimpses of the lower side of humanity forever altered your view of the world. There is evil, and the rest of society deserves protection from that. All hail the thin blue line!

How we do it

Retired Chief Gary Schira was so enthusiastic in helping to plan our 75th anniversary celebration in 2016. He reached back and helped to get twenty-two past presidents to the gala celebration in Oakbrook Terrace.  What a great evening it was! Special Garrett Anderson addresses Illinois ChiefsOlympics Global Messenger Garrett Anderson (pictured) brought the house down with a very funny and inspiring speech. Retired Chief Ray Rose made a point to thank me afterward for a great evening of reminiscing and camaraderie. When I politely said, “You’re welcome,” Ray leaned in and said, “No, Ed, I’m not bullshitting. This was really great.” (Many more Illinois Chiefs pictures here.)

On the other side of the state, someone introduced me to the Southern Illinois Criminal Justice Summit, held every February in Mt. Vernon or Effingham. I was floored at my first one, seeing more than 300 law enforcement people so eager for the training. Since then, I have become a member of the planning committee, and now the Illinois Chiefs host a small reception the night before the summit begins. I commend Dave Hayes, the director MTU 14 and retired Alton chief, for shaping a magnificent conference. This year, more than 400 people were there, and they had to create a waiting list. Two of the five Chiefs of the Year our association has recognized since launching that award in 2015 are from Southern Illinois – Chief Eric Van Hook of O’Fallon and Chief Nick Gailius, then of Fairview Heights and now chief in Madison. I wish those guys could get our members up north to support the Cardinals and Blues as feverishly as they do. Sorry, Cubs fans!

Chief Frank Kaminski of Park Ridge, the second president for whom I served, was rightfully concerned about our finances when I started. We had just finished a year in the red, and he implored me to be vigilant and turn it around to be at least “one penny” in the black. For better or worse, that has transformed me into a director with a Depression-baby attitude – watching our spending and refraining from getting luxurious. That caused me to be a bit too cautious. When Vice President Dean Stiegemeier volunteered to present two Medals of Valor in Belvidere, he was surprised to see that our “medals” were actually framed paper certificates. Dean and the Board of Officers kindly asked me to consider buying real Medals of Valor. So we did, and I sent two of them to Belvidere for their deserving officers. More good news is that in the five-period from 2015-2019, we have had a surplus each year (averaging $37,355) and have amassed more than $180,000 in reserves. I remind Frank that we have the “one penny” plus a little more.

Then there was the time when several of our chiefs grumbled that we were not doing nearly enough in the legislative arena. Then-Hanover Park Chief Dave Webb became the chair of our new Public Relations Committee, and his deputy chief, Andy Johnson, launched us into the social media era. With a persistent effort, we now have more than 5,000 “Likes” on our Facebook page, and it is no longer unusual for more than a thousand people to “engage” and share our Facebook posts. This has become a great way to get our message to larger audiences. To stay with the times, we also updated our website so that everything is easy to read on a smartphone, which is overtaking desktops in audience preference. Our Weekly Bulletin is also designed for easy reading on a smartphone, and in December 2019 we did a cover story in Command about the success of our social media.

Senator Radogno and Pat O'ConnorWe have also beefed up our legislative focus considerably – adding John Millner as a lobbyist, hiring Sherrie Phipps from the Senate Democratic staff to help with our communications, and reaping the benefits of the indefatigable Chief Marc Maton, who now chairs our Legislative Committee and is this year’s Chief of the Year. These leaders have the support of dozens of members who review bills, attend Lobby Day, and contact their legislators. They are building on the solid foundation laid by former lobbyist Limey Nargelenas and former Legislative Committee Chair Pat O’Connor (pictured). Without the dedicated attention of all these people, law enforcement would suffer more in the State Capitol. Many of our board members say they had no idea when they joined the board how many hours and weeks are dedicated to legislative activity in Springfield.

What we do

At every Executive Board meeting, I show the same slide, reminding people that our four major areas of focus are:

  1. Professional development
  2. Legislative advocacy
  3. Outreach to partners and collaborators
  4. Messaging and telling the law enforcement story

That is what we focus on, but we do a lot more than that, thanks to our committees and board members. If we tried to focus on too much with limited staff and volunteer resources, we wouldn’t do anything well.

Building trust

I first interviewed for this job in the summer of 2014, and I accepted the position that September. In between the interview and the offer, Michael Brown died in Ferguson, Missouri, and there have been subsequent ongoing challenges about the perceptions of the police. I am exceedingly proud of the partnership that President Kaminski and President Jim Kruger built with the NAACP Illinois State Conference. They etched Ten Shared Principles, which is now a covenant between us and which remains the basis for robust and candid conversations between law enforcement and communities of color throughout Illinois. By now, more than 800 people have attended fifteen World Cafes (with four more scheduled in April) and several related events, all designed to build trust. We are making a lot of progress at the grassroots level, and that gets zero media attention, most likely because it is not creating conflict, but building bridges and building trust. Oh well. We will carry on!

Shared Principles signingWhen I accepted the job in 2014, some friends and family members questioned my sanity in going to work for the police in such turbulent times. Why would you do this? they asked. I did not back down. I said there are five generations of law enforcement on my wife’s side of the family, and the police are serving society very well and they need friends and I think I can help them.

That was my answer then. I have an even better answer now. You leaders in law enforcement average 20 or 30 years of sacrifice and service, and I do what I do because you love what you do. You feel the call, and I do, too.

Ed Wojcicki is executive director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. At left, he emcees the program on March 22, 2018, when the Illinois Chiefs and  Illinois NAACP State Conference signed their historic Ten Shared Principles, with Presidents Teresa Haley and Chief James R. Kruger, Jr., taking the lead in the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, in the same room where Abraham Lincoln gave his famous "House divided" speech in 1858.