Back when West Side Chicago natives Frank Kennedy and Richard Toll joined the Oak Park police force on April 15, 1974, law enforcement was a significantly different job than it is today. The two men, who will retire January 29, have seen the advent of a host of developments, innovations that include computers in squad cars, the Internet, 911 emergency service, digital cameras, faxes, mobile radios, cell phones, DNA and even the routine use of bullet proof vests. They've also seen the department physically move from cramped quarters in the old village hall at Lake Street and Euclid Avenue to the frequently derided basement of the new village hall at Madison and Lombard.
Toll and Kennedy have also seen quite a few new faces come and go, having served under five police chiefs, six village managers and seven village presidents, as well as dozens of village board members.
While both finished their careers as deputy chiefs, they progressed via different paths and on different time tables that reflected their innate personalities. More open and talkative, Kennedy has a sense of the street smart kid about him, and retains the presence of the construction worker he briefly was as a young man. Toll is more reserved, and looks more like the academic and teacher that he also is.
"Kennedy has always retained the street cop perspective of things," said Chief Rick Tanksley, who has served with both for 20 years. "And Toll has spent a lot of time on the administrative side."
On the day Toll was offered a position on the Oak Park force, in fact, he also received a job offer from a school district in Highland Park. After talking with friends, he took the badge.
"I thought there were more chances to help people," he said. Academic demeanor aside, Toll never shied away from the nitty gritty of policing, eventually holding every position on the force, from patrolman and tactical officer to detective commander. Toll made deputy chief rapidly, 13 years ago on his 17th anniversary as a cop, and has since held all three positions at that rank, including field. support and administration.
Asked if he knew he'd do well as a cop, Toll smiled slightly and nodded his head affirmatively.
Like Toll, Kennedy was influenced by neighborhood friends. He decided to look into police work after hearing his older brother's friends talk about the job. Though not something he'd dreamed of, he said, he thought he should give it a chance.
"The only thing I ever aspired to be was a detective," said Kennedy. The other stuff, he said, "just happened." Consistent with his street kid youth, Kennedy found himself attracted to the adrenaline and instinct of tactical work. He was apparently quite good at it; between 1977 and 1983, he was "on loan" to the Metropolitan Enforcement Group, or MEG, working mostly the collar counties as an undercover drug agent. Coming back to the routine of municipal police work was "a reality check," he said. As was working midnights his first few months back. Soon, however, he was promoted to detective sergeant, then detective commander. In 2000, Kennedy joined his friend as a deputy chief.
As their final days of service slip by, the two men are quietly proud of accomplishments that go well beyond the rank on their sleeves. They have, they say, played a part in helping make the Oak Park police department, and Oak Park itself, better.
The one thing both men said is particularly different from what they expected early on is the emphasis on service as a cop. They note that back when they came on the force, cops had to pass minimum height and size requirements, with the emphasis more on making arrests. However, that was already changing at the time they joined, and they've witnessed the evolution of community policing from a progressive idea to standard practice in most communities. Both now say that policing is indeed primarily about "serving and protecting."
Said Kennedy, "You help a hell of a lot more people than you put in jail."
The change in attitude didn't come overnight, however. Not every cop immediately embraced the new concept.
"At first a lot of us didn't like it," said Kennedy, who eventually became the first community police commander in 1994. "But if you don't change with the times, the times will pass you by." It also helped, both said, that the police chief back then basically told his officers they'd either accept it or leave the department.
"You don't do it alone," added Toll, citing the work of such community groups as the village's Community Relations department under Cedric Melton and the Township Youth Task Force under John Williams.
"We're just the first responders," said Toll. "As Frank said, it's a team effort. It's not one person, it's everybody."
"We're very fortunate in Oak Park. People get involved," said Kennedy, who added that it's far easier to keep a block from being taken over by gangs than it is to take a block back.
Sitting back in a police conference room, Kennedy spoke of the sense of fleeing time, of the "one thousand weekends," he has left. He didn't, he said, want to stay too long and miss the opportunity to explore other opportunities.
Both men plan to take "a month or two off" and relax a bit before looking around for something else to do.
Toll, the academic who still has his teaching certificate, said "I may go back into teaching." Kennedy, the street guy, figures he'll end up doing some sort of investigative work.
"But nothing administrative," he added, smiling.