Oak Lawn Police Chief Mike Murray | Bob Rakow for Sun-Times Media
Mike Murray fondly recalls his early days in law enforcement.
Patrolling the streets of Oak Lawn, meeting with residents and investigating crimes were the features of the job Murray enjoyed most.
The new Oak Lawn police chief has spent the past 25 years climbing the ranks until he was chosen in April to lead the force.
“The higher you go, the farther away you go from what you really love doing,” Murray said.
Today he spends most of his time at the police department, tending to myriad administrative duties such as budgets, staffing, working with elected officials and resolving residents’ concerns.
“I’m still learning. It’s a different perspective,” said Murray, who grew up in St. Catherine of Alexandria parish and graduated from Marist High School.
The Oak Lawn native joined the department in 1987 and has served in numerous capacities since his days as a patrol officer. He’s worked as a juvenile and DARE officer and commanded the investigations and patrol divisions.
Murray was a division chief before replacing chief Bill Villanova, who retired in March after 36 years with the police department.
“This was the next step,” said Murray, 51. “It was never a specific goal. My goal was to get to the next level.”
Murray has served under four chiefs, and now leads 108 sworn officers and an additional 34 staff members.
“This whole job is administration,” Murray said. “I’m kind of like a traffic cop.”
A typical day could include meetings with village manager Larry Deetjen, Mayor Sandra Bury or other officers, applying for grants or hearing residents’ concerns.
“Most of my complaints are from people who had negative contact with police,” Murray said. “We get letters. I get complaints.”
Murray listens to the grievances, hears the officer’s side of the story and tries to reach a solution, he said.
But Murray is mindful that Oak Lawn residents are one of the department’s biggest allies and encourages them to report suspicious activity.
“We try to get that message across loudly and clearly,” said Murray, a graduate of Illinois Benedictine College. “They are (the department’s) eyes and ears.”
While Murray insists he’s still getting accustomed to his new role, division chief Mike Kaufmann said that he’s more than prepared.
“He has the knowledge to lead the department into the future,” said Kaufmann, who advanced through the department ranks along with Murray. “He was always tenacious as a detective. He has a good handle on different aspects of the department.”
One such aspect is the growing role technology will play in effective police work.
The department has applied for a grant that would fund the installation of cameras in strategic locations throughout the village.
The cameras could be tied into other systems operated by schools or businesses, for example, to add a new layer to fighting crime, Murray said.
“It’s the future,” said Murray, who raised his five children in Oak Lawn’s St. Gerald parish. “Having the ability to do that is the future.”
An electronic image of a partial license plate number, for example, could help police catch a criminal, he said.
The village uses the Everbridge mass notification system to send critical information to residents, including police information. Some residents have complained that the system is not used as effectively or as frequently as possible.
Murray called Everbridge “a work in progress” and does not want it overused to the point that residents would ignore important emergency messages.
“It’s a balance,” he said.
He’s also considered a police department Facebook page, but is mindful of the issues and problems associated with social media.