COUNTRYSIDE – They were 27 young men with no police experience, and they were supposed to start a police department.
The city of Burbank took over control of its own police operation Jan. 1, 1983, after previously falling under Cook County jurisdiction. The department hired Joseph Ford as one of its dispatchers just months after Ford graduated from Southern Illinois University.
“Anybody with any kind of police experience came in as a sergeant, and there were only three of them,” said Ford, Countryside’s new police chief.
The department’s first night on the job was New Year’s Day. The first call: fireworks.
“We had about seven guys running out in cars and going to it,” Ford said. “It was sort of comical if you look back at it now.”
During his more than 30 years serving in Burbank, Ford, who took over for Mike Ruth as Countryside’s chief of police May 8, helped build the department into one that could take on Burbank’s significant amount of crime. Ford worked his way up to division chief, eventually overseeing the department’s patrol and investigation team.
“It was a great place to be, to grow, to expand,” Ford said. “We were able to create policy and form a police department that in our minds was what a professional police department should be like – without the ceilings, the paradigms that were set before us.”
Because they were young and hadn’t gotten used to any one way of doing things, the staff – and in turn the department – developed by adopting strategies that were considered progressive. One of Ford’s projects was starting a citywide surveillance camera system. There are currently 38 cameras around Burbank, monitored 24/7 by an officer at the station.
“I bring that ideal here,” Ford said. “We’re not afraid of change. We’re not afraid to try something to be more efficient, more effective.”
Unlike the Burbank department he helped build, the one he’s taken over is more established, Ford said.
“This police department is in great shape and was left in great shape,” Ford said.
Specifically, Ford said he believed in Countryside’s community policing model. Developing a good relationship between residents and police officers is important to him, he said, making the department more than just an enforcement group.
Away from work, the 52-year-old plays in a 16-inch softball league and coaches a rugby club comprised of players from Lincoln-Way Community High School District.
He has also coached Little League baseball and high school football and wrestling.
“I’ve coached everything there is,” he said. “I attribute my police work as a supervisor to [being] a coach.”