By Michael Romain
Maywood Police Chief Tim Curry, a graduate of Irving Elementary, Proviso East High School and UIC, began his career as a police officer the Monday after he graduated from college in 1985. He’s been on duty ever since. “I don’t know if they can find five or six sick days in my 28 years.” He’s served most of his career in different facets of patrol and supervision. In January 2009, Curry was promoted to commander. He would earn the rank of lieutenant civil service and ultimately chief less than six months later. Last week, Curry retired after 28 years with the department. It was a move that had been months in the making. I sat down with the Chief on Friday, June 7, to talk about his years at the helm, some of his most memorable cases and his plans for the future.
What prompted your decision to retire?
I enjoyed working under Mayor Yarbrough, but I had made up my mind a few months ago that I’d be putting my resumes out. The change in administration has noting to do with me leaving. For much of the time I’ve been chief I’ve been understaffed and its been challenging for on a professional and personal level. That took away from my home life. I’ve got a wife and three young kids that need to see more of their dad during the hours I’m now working. I’ve got a great command staff in Commanders Willis and West. They have qualities I felt were needed to make a winning team. We are a winning team, but changes are needed from time to time. I hope the vision I set forth for them will continue. Hopefully they’ll share that vision and pick a team based on it.
Do you have someone in mind for your replacement?
The Village manager is the one who selects the new chief. But I hope the next chief comes from within the force. I believe when its all said and done, Commander Willis will be acting chief. I hope that Commander West is also in that equation. My commanders are more qualified today to take charge than I was when I took charge. But we have other supervisors who have shown the qualities and skills necessary to assume higher command. I never took personal possession of this office. You’re only here for a little while. But while you’re here you have to bring others up to assume the positions. So I’ve been in the process of grooming replacements. That’s just part of the job.
I want to switch to certain perceptions that the public has about the Maywood Police Department and your attempts as Chief to address them. Some of the most persistent assumptions is that Maywood Police officers are corrupt, they don’t do much and that they’re too many of them.
No, there aren’t too many officers. We currently have a total of 56 officers (11 part-time). But, we’re currently trying to hire more to get the number of part-time officers back up to around 20.
In any department, you’ll have overachievers and underachievers. Our department today has a lot more overachievers than underachievers — much more than in the past. We have addressed many instances of underachieving and many instances in which officers didn’t act as if they deserved to be here. This administration has addressed that. No doubt about it. We have to show the community we’re serious about not only serving them, but policing our own inside. But no one can say that we haven’t done that in the last four years.
As far as corruption goes. There’s always been a perception that we’re corrupt. But I want people to know that their concerns along those lines were the first things I tackled when I became Chief. We’ve addressed those issues to the point where people were turned over to other agencies. The culture we had in the past, I believe, has changed. Our current officers don’t support the culture that existed then. Unfortunately, that change has come at a price for some officers who were willing to step up and help change it. But, we’ve tried to support an anti-corruption environment, so there won’t be any reprisals for officers who speak up.
I think most of the officers here want to have pride in their job. They want people to know that they’re out here doing a good job and they want to separate themselves from those who aren’t doing a good job. All in all, there are some great people here.
The first thing is the technology. When I started in ’85, there were no computers in squad cars. There was a radio system, but not much else. But probably the biggest thing is the way we operate. There are more rules and laws governing our operation. There is much more litigation involved. Back in the ’80s, hardly anyone heard of police being sued. Now, that’s commonplace. Today’s police officer has to be much smarter. We didn’t have video back in the ’80s and ’90s. Now, video is everywhere.
One of the biggest stains on the Maywood Police Department’s record has been the unsolved murder of Officer Tom Wood, who was killed in October of 2006. Of course, you’re aware of the Chicago Magazine article that touted the case as exemplifying Maywood’s municipal corruption. What, in your opinion, did the story get wrong? What do you want people to know about the case that they may not know?
Outside of Tom’s family, I don’t think there’s anyone who wants to see that case resolved more than me. We were very, very close on the job and without saying too much, I think we’re kind of in the arena of where we need to be, but we also need to have that special piece of the puzzle to impress the State’s Attorney’s office.
As far as the Chicago Magazine article is concerned, there were a number of things that happened. First, we had told the BGA [the Better Government Association, which carried out the reporting for the article], that while the case was cold it was still open. There was information that we couldn’t tell them. Some of it was information (about the kind of gun used in the murder, the caliber of rounds, etc.) that only the offender would know. In keeping it private, we were trying to preserve the integrity of the case. And I told Herguth [Robert Herguth, the investigative reporter with the BGA] this. Well, he went knocking on suspects’ doors and making phone calls to people based on phone records he’d obtained. That was a major intrusion in the case. And it may have sabotaged the case. I want good government just like everyone else, but what was the purpose of that?
[Jean Lotus, the editor of the Forest Park Review, also sat in on this interview. She noted that the length of time it took to solve the case frustrated many in the public. The media, she said, many times acts in the interest of the public. And so, perhaps Herguth was trying to do what he and many citizens felt the Maywood Police Dept. was not doing — willfully or not — which is bring some justice and resolution to the case].
I’ve been the department’s public information officer, so I’m aware of the complications that can come up when officers are trying to judge whether or not to divulge information to the media. When compiling evidence for a case, you have to make sure that you’re putting stuff together that will satisfy the Attorney General’s office. We wanted to make sure that we had something that would stick in court. So, sometimes, we can’t tell the media everything that we know.
I remember during the Bryeon Hunter case, someone attributed me as saying that the mother and boyfriend were pointing fingers at each other. Well, that turned out to be true, but I had an obligation to withhold that information for the benefit of the case. I never told this particular reporter that information. Nonetheless, they attributed it to me anyway. What if I have my investigators saying, ‘Let’s not tell the Chief this, because he’s going to tell the media’? When I tried confronting the media source that put that out there, I never got my calls returned.
Speaking of the Hunter Case…
That case was the worst experience I’ve had on this job outside of Tom Wood being killed. The media just jumped all over me. I couldn’t sleep. I was getting calls at 2am, 3am, you name it. One media person called me on a Sunday afternoon on my house phone and no one has that number. That case really got to me. It was probably the worst time in my career. The silver-lining to it is that we arrested people and we have the baby.
In fact, the other two cases that bothered me most also involved babies. One happened 15 years ago. A couple burned an infant over 300 times with cigarette buds. The other one involved a drug addict who thought her baby would have a better life with another lady. It turned out that one of the lady’s kids broke the baby’s arm and ribs. The woman apparently knew this and was trying to take the wrap for her child. All of those cases are crystal clear in my mind.
What’s next for you?
I’ll be serving as the new Director of Security for the Cook County Recorder of Deeds office. I’ll be working to improve the security services there. It’s a small operation; probably no more than about six employees. It’s definitely a far cry from now. But I don’t look at it as easy. There are definitely things I’d want to get into in order to help improve that office. A lot of people don’t realize that the slightest security issues may mean the difference between chaos and order.
Have you had any communication with the new mayor during this transition?
No. They already know the process. And, you know, this really isn’t a transition to me. I haven’t been selfish with this job. For me, it’s been a shared leadership type of thing. If they hire from within the department, we won’t miss a beat. The people that I put in place, in many areas they knew stuff I didn’t. The genius is using other people’s smarts. And I have to say, my supporting cast was outstanding. So to me this is not a transition. I’m just basically passing the keys. And I promised that I would remain as a resource. This is always going to be my department.
Any parting statements?
I just want to thank the Village. I was thrilled by the confidence the community had in me when I was asked to lead the department. I want people to know that everything I thought they deserved in a police department, I’ve tried to fulfill. I put 100 percent of me into trying to make this department what it should be for the residents of Maywood. I was out in the field with my guys. I supported and policed them 100 percent. If it was something they were doing that wasn’t becoming of a police officer, I was there to make sure that they knew they knew it.
It was a pleasure working here. I have many colleagues from area police departments — chiefs and regular police officers and other public safety officials — it was a pleasure working with them to ensure that this area is safe. We watched each others’ backs.
It was a pleasure working with the businesses and schools. There are still kids out there who will wave at me. I’ll still wave back. I hope that kind of camaraderie continues.
I want to thank my family, who put up with a lot of the issues that came with being head of this department. It often required me to be out late at night. I had to leave my sons’ events. I couldn’t be there for others. I’m looking forward to regaining these things. I’m just generally appreciative of those who had confidence in me, who allowed me to lead. And even to the naysayers. I have to thank them, too. Without them, I would’ve had no desire or motivation to become a better person.
But these aren’t parting words. I’m still a Maywood resident. I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. VFP