Agnes Murillo, a no-nonsense, good-humored, thoughtful police officer, is a 12-year veteran of the River Forest Police Department and one of four women on the 24-person force.
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 and how she balances family life with her career.
Have you done anything else in law enforcement?
I was a security guard at G.D. Searle in Skokie for a year. I had just gotten married when I got a job at Joliet Correctional Center [from 1998 to 2001]. I was trying to get foot into law enforcement-related work. I worked day and night shifts there, moving inmates from the dorms or the general population from building to building. I'd take them to their jobs and to chow. I also worked the tower where I would oversee the yard.
They watch you like hawks. Just when you think they don't know anything, they know a lot more than you think. The only thing we had on us were keys; we didn't get cuffs or guns. I never got harassed there; they always were extremely nice to me. You can't let them see fear. They test out your weaknesses. You have to build trust and fairness with them.
Have you ever been the victim of a crime?
No, I'd hate to be a victim. I hate for someone to go through it, too. We have to be counselors at the same time we're police. They tell me what they've gone through and ask me if I have ever been a victim. I tell them, thankfully no. They tell me they feel so violated and they ask why people are trying to take this stuff away from me that I worked so hard to get for myself.
Have you ever been pulled over for anything?
I got pulled over a month and a half ago in Elgin. The street went from 30 to 45 and I was caught just before it turned to 45. The officer told me to slow down.
Tell me about an unusually tough case you've had.
I was on this case right after I came back from having my first daughter, so it was eight years ago. We had a 911 hang-up call. We went to the address and a guy had beaten up his girlfriend, thrown her on the bed and taken her 2-week-old daughter and literally thrown the baby against the wall. That just broke my heart because right then I was relating to the mom, a brand-new mom. It was her first baby and I just had mine. We arrested him on the spot. We charged him based on any detail that she gave us, toward both her and the baby. I told her many of the victims sign a complaint and don't go to court, especially in domestic cases. She told me the baby was her life now, the baby was all she had and that she was going through with it. The guy ended up serving 3-6 years. Five years ago, I saw her in Forest Park; she was a cashier. She noticed me right away and I recognized her and we started talking. She was concerned that he was getting out soon, and she was married now and had another baby. It all worked out pretty good for her and the baby. The baby had a concussion. We had to call DCFS but told them the mom had nothing to do with this.
What kind of incidents are challenging?
Anyone on drugs. They're not in the right state of mind, especially when they're on PCP. They're completely like the devil's inside of them; they will fight you. There was one guy on PCP at Chicago and Harlem who fought with me and two male officers. We got a call that a man at the gas station knocked over a garbage can and threw it at this lady's car while she was gassing up. We went up to him, he had to be 150 pounds soaking wet. And we could tell he was not in a right state of mind. We got one handcuff on him and he just went ballistic. He was dragging, swinging us around. He had no feeling, he was screaming at the top of his lungs. We sprayed him with two cans of OC spray [like pepper spray] and it didn't affect him. He had tons of cuts on him, there was blood everywhere. There was blood all over us.
I went on my radio and all I said was I need help. There wasn't a second to think about it, this happened so fast. It was instinct. The next thing I knew my radio went flying. I had no contact with the world. It was just him and me and two officers. When the guys showed up, there was so much blood, they wanted to know what happened. The fire department showed up. A police sergeant heard my call and he dropped his salad in a restaurant. He ended up with a sprained finger when the guy stood right front of him and kicked him. He hurt a firefighter, too. The next morning when got off whatever he was on, he was the nicest man you'd ever have known. He asked what happened and apologized. He didn't remember fighting with us. He asked if he hurt anybody. I told him he hurt a sergeant. He tried kicking a window out of my squad car. That's the strength he had; he didn't even realize what happened. He was fighting to the end, he had so much energy.
Have you ever been injured on the job or shot at?
Thankfully, no. No one's shot at me. I can't even tell you how I'd react. I'd play it in out in my mind how I'd react. If right now I pulled a car over and he came out with a gun, how it'd play out in my mind and how I'd actually react would be so different. I don't think I'd be the kind of person who would hesitate.
Which case took you by surprise?
Before Kiddieland closed [in 2009], I was working the afternoon shift and we got a call that there was a male walking near Willard School. He was wearing a trench coat, he had no clothes on underneath and he was masturbating. We knew there were no kids around. This was straight from roll call. We show up and there's this guy; he must have been high on something, I have no idea what. We arrested him for disorderly conduct. He fought with us. I don't know if he was mentally unstable or he was high on drugs. He kept telling us to stimulate his nipples. It turned out he was an employee at Kiddieland. He was putting seatbelts around kids' bodies. He had contact with kids.
This is a small town, but it's not Mayberry.
People would think it's quiet, but in a sense it's not. Some think we drive around looking for dogs. And we do get our dog calls. One call we got from a senior when I started here. It was a 911 hang-up call. The problem was unknown. This senior said she couldn't lift this box; her Christmas tree was in there. So I lifted it up and put it in the attic. A lot of residents are the nicest people in the world, but I wonder if they know what goes on. We try to make River Forest safe but try to understand there are only four or five of us on a shift and we only can monitor so much. We choose to eat lunch in the station, because a lot of residents, well, they can be mean to us. A lot of residents don't understand what we do every day or what our families go through. When our kids are older, my husband and I will try to be on the same shift. Hopefully we will have more days off and have afternoons as families. It's been a long time since we had a family dinner. Residents don't understand that.
There are four women in the department. Do you have a bond?
I think there is one. I know I could call any one of them up and we could talk through something that has to do with personal stuff at home or with work. I trust that person wouldn't say anything. I'd do the same thing with the guys. They come to me with their problems and they get a woman's perspective; I give them my input. I always found it interesting when I hear them talk, and I wonder if my husband ever goes out and talks with the [fellow officers in his department] about what's going on. I think I have a great bond with everyone in the department. We don't hold grudges. We all have kids and families; we don't want to lose any of that. We don't want to be an outcast where someone won't help you out and you have no one to count on you to be there. You don't want to be that person.