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First of two parts:
Agnes Murillo is a no-nonsense, good-humored, thoughtful police officer. A 12-year veteran of the River Forest Police Department, she is one of four women on the 24-person force.
A 37-year-old mom of three daughters, Murillo was born in Chicago and grew up in a mostly Polish neighborhood at Belmont and Cicero (she also speaks Polish). Her husband is a 15-year veteran of the River Grove Police Department.
A graduate of the Chicago Community College system, she majored in psychology and minored in criminal justice, then worked as a security guard at G.D. Searle for one year and as a correctional officer at Joliet Correctional Facility for three years before being accepted to the Chicago Police Academy. She was there for four months before she got the call to join the department.
Wednesday Journal recently took a ride-along with Murillo on an afternoon shift, where she talked candidly about being a police officer in River Forest, her cases, how she balances family life with her career.
What prompted you to think about police work?
Ever since high school (Foreman in Chicago) — I grew up in the 25th District. I knew a lot of police officers in the neighborhood. I still keep in contact with a lot of them. There's a different personality. We get along better, there's a stronger bond among families and between each other, no matter what. Even if you don't like a certain person on a shift or on a different shift, or a sergeant, or anybody else, no matter what, we give it 100 percent, we have their back in any situation, without any hesitation. That's what professionals do.
What was it about police that you found intriguing?
Just the way they spoke with people, the way they carried themselves. Police work is a challenge, and I've always been a person who's up for a challenge. It's not like going out of your way to take a bullet or anything; that's a cowboy attitude. A lot of people just wouldn't like to run into a burning building. If I knew someone was inside, I would, and I'm terrified of fires; they're my worst fears. But if I knew someone in there needed help, or if there was a school shooting, I wouldn't hesitate. I would want someone to do that for my kids.
When I see police officers at my kids' schools monitoring traffic, that makes me feel better that they're there. I want River Forest residents to feel the same way. You have your weirdoes trying to get kids into vehicles. They're being so bold about it. In Oak Park, they're out in the open. I remember as a kid someone trying to do that every Friday before CCD (St. Stanislaus at Fullerton and Central). A black Jeep would be out there every Friday and the same guy would come by and ask kids if they needed a ride. Who'd think about someone grabbing a license plate number? You didn't think of that. It was scarier before, [but] our parents trusted us. There was limited technology. These kids now have cellphones, smart phones. They can call police and we'd come. I had to wait to get to church, dial 911 on a pay phone, and the police would pull me out of the church.
How did you end up in River Forest?
I was in the Chicago Police Academy before this. I had just started my marriage and we had bought a house when Chicago called me and I accepted the position. The fourth month into training, River Forest, Elmwood Park and Forest Park all called me in the same week, asking if I wanted to be a police officer. I didn't want to go to Forest Park because I did not want to answer disputes in my own neighborhood [Forest Park and North Riverside, where she lives, are right next to each other]. It would have been kind of awkward. I didn't want to go to Elmwood Park because my husband already was an officer in River Grove.
Tell me about your day. What kind of things do you do?
Our responsibility is to patrol the streets and do traffic. We go by the schools and make sure the kids coming out are safe, that everyone's stopping for the crossing guards. We make sure no one's driving on their cellphones or that they try to [do so] around the kids or the buses. Our presence alone stops people in their tracks or holds them off.
I like being around people; I'm a people person. And this job is also about building relationships and building trust with a lot of people. If I go to Jewel on a retail theft and I interview people, I'm building a relationship because if something happens, they can help you. They are our eyes and ears out there when we're not there. It helps keep a community safe; they look out for each other.
There are people who question why I'm pulling them over. And I tell them they went through the stop sign. Or if I pull them over for speeding, they ask me why they're pulled over. And I tell them you're doing 60 in a 25-mile-an-hour zone.
How do you know they're speeding?
I have radar, eyeballs. Sometimes I can really tell someone's speeding without looking at the radar. I can sit down on Thatcher and the radar goes off, it's a high pitched tone. It really goes on high when someone is speeding. On Thatcher, a lot of deer come out of the woods there. There are so many accidents because of the animals that pop out of the woods. And they're not going to stop and look both ways.
Is every day a learning experience on the force?
Yes, you take it day by day and go with the flow. You have to. Recently we had 14 calls. It was over 40 degrees. There were domestics left and right. They happen especially around the holidays.
There might be a day where we hope it's super slow because we didn't get enough sleep. Then there are days when we don't even go to roll call. We just run calls. It's straight out of the locker room.
I also understand you are an evidence technician. Tell me what you do.
When there's a situation, any time there's evidence to be collected in a case, I go to the house or a store and gather up as much evidence as I can, photograph everything, dust everything. We actually identified a burglary suspect from the offender's drops of sweat. The victim told us she did not know what happened. They were getting ready to leave on vacation and the cleaning lady had been there that day. The floor was clean, and we saw drops on the floor. He suggested just doing a test.
What kind of situations are difficult?
I don't like DOAs. When you arrive, you don't know what triggered the death. The first DOA I had, I thought she resembled my mother. I called my mom after that and told her. It was freaky. The woman was of Eastern European descent; it hit home. It makes you want to go home and hug your family. When you get to a house, you do as much as you can while you're in the house. It's an uncomfortable feeling, I just pretend the person's sleeping. You know they're there, but you know they're not. It's a weird feeling.
Do you find that being a woman is challenging particularly when you've stopped a suspect?
I've been here for 12 years, and the guys get into stuff all the time. As soon as I come out of the car, folks talk to me. I've never had anyone run from me.
I'd call for backup. Other units hear you, Oak Park, Forest Park, Elmwood Park could respond, too, if they're close by.
Which is most challenging, when it's really quiet or when it's stressful?
Especially when it's stressful, the day does go faster. I'm bounding from call to call and the next thing you know I'm back at the station, and there are three or four reports stacked up. If it's something I can hold off on, I'll finish it up the next day. But if I'm off the next two days, then I'll stay and finish them.
What are the shifts?
Six days on, two days off. Every 5-6 weeks, I work a weekend. I don't mind rotating days. After 12 years, I've gotten used to it. But it's tough for people with families who are just starting out. A lot of guys are young.
You mentioned that your husband is a police officer. Does that make it easier to talk about your work?
It does. He knows about the crazy hours and what I'm going through. I'm on rotating shifts every 30 days. I'm on the afternoon shift (2:30 to 10:30). It doesn't leave much time for family life, especially if there are family and holiday parties and weddings.
Is this tough on your daughters?
It's difficult to explain to my kids that this is the job I do. They don't know what it requires or what I do at work. They know police officers. I want them to see police officers when I bring them here. I want them to get used to the culture. I want them to be around police so they're not scared of them, so they get used to them. My little one, she's frightened of police, but when I put on my uniform, she tells me she likes my costume.
How do you deal with the stress?
You gotta take a step back and do your job. I have to have a clear mind, I have to be open-minded, we gotta work together as a team. If there's no teamwork, and you're doing it by yourself, it can get pretty bad. When it gets like that, it's emotionally and physically draining.
When both of you are at home and you've had stressful days do you talk about it?
Hardly ever. We used to like coming home and watching Cops; that doesn't happen anymore. When we became officers, we were always watching Cops to see what was out there and what officers would do in situations. I don't bring it home. We both know what the other does at work.
It's a different world from family life, being a police officer. I'm dealing with everyone else's problems. And when I get home, I deal with my own family problems. I usually get home by 11 p.m., I check my girls' homework, and I don't get to see them. So they leave little messages on a board, like good night and don't forget to give us kisses or see you in the morning. I only get to see my 8-year-old 25 minutes a day. As a mom with three girls, it's hard. With the older one, it's harder. She doesn't like the fact that I'm on afternoons. It's harder on her than the other two because she's getting to the age where she needs her mom. She has a lot of questions. When I leave the department at night, I leave my work there and come home. When my kids ask, I explain to them that I stop bad people from hurting good people, or I look for bad people.