Tuesday, May 21, 2019

After 39 years, Town Hall police commander turns in his star

Cmdr. Marc Buslik at Wrigley Field | CPD via Twitter
To the many Chicagoans who change jobs every couple of years or surf the “gig economy,” outgoing 19th District Police Cmdr. Marc Buslik has done the unimaginable: He's been reporting to work for the same employer since Jimmy Carter was president.

That ends on Wednesday.

“That's my 63rd birthday, and it has to be my last day on the payroll,” he said, referring to CPD’s mandatory retirement age. “I had thought that I might look for another job when I was 55, but by that time I was having too good of a time to quit. Then I was promoted to commander, and it made little sense to run out of here before I had to go.”

Buslik has been leading the sprawling Town Hall District from its Wrigleyville station house since November 2016, a feat that is itself is an achievement in a department that seems to endlessly shuffle its leadership deck.

And the man whose curriculum vitae includes conducting “covert audio and video surveillance”; being “deputized as a Special Federal Agent with the FBI"; and developing computer tools for policing in an era when Radio Shack and Commodore were the world's foremost desktop brands, says leading the local district has been his most enjoyable assignment of all.

The 19th District stretches from Fullerton to Lawrence, the river to the lake.
Before moving to Town Hall, Buslik spearheaded the department’s rollout of body cameras. And when the Laquan McDonald video prompted a U.S. Department of Justice “pattern and practice” investigation of CPD, Buslik was chosen to be the department’s liaison with federal officials.

“Body cameras are the police officers' and community's best friend,” Buslik said. “They keep everyone safer by helping to calm tensions when all know that they're being recorded and keep people safe. They help keep police officers accountable, and they prove that we do things the right way.”

And, as for that federal investigation, the 39-year veteran says Chicago’s cops “should embrace the [resulting] consent decree…We've screwed some things up over the years, but it's not as bad as some feel a need to claim. But the decree will help us be as good as we can be.”

What lies ahead for the department? "Our biggest challenge is how to fully participate in the social welfare system," Buslik said. "The effort that we are doing here in the 19th District in interacting with people who are mentally ill or in crisis is an excellent example of how to leverage the reality that the police often carry the burden to help people in crisis: whether mental health, housing or substance use.”

“Cops will occasionally say, ‘But we're not social workers.’ And they're right—but we are part of that social welfare system with a responsibility to keep all of our communities safe.”

Calling anti-violence efforts “a big inter-related system of systems,” Buslik said police “need to figure out how to take the lead with a whole range of other agencies and services: schools, parental education, recreation, jobs, housing, and hunger.”

“I think Mayor Emanuel began that effort and I expect to see Mayor Lightfoot approach violence similarly.”

Patrolman Marc Buslik | CPD via Twitter
Buslik also noted the progress CPD has made in taking care of its own officers over the years. "How we embrace our own mental health” is one of the most significant changes he’s seen in nearly 40 years on the job, he said while crediting former Supt. Terry Hillard with "helping us de-stigmatize seeking help."

But there is much more to do: “We need to continue to support our employees, from suicide prevention, to training, to internal organization legitimacy.”

Looking back, Buslik called his job as Town Hall commander the most enjoyable assignment of his career—“And I've had some very interesting jobs.”

“We made some really significant progress [in Town Hall] with crime and I've really liked working so closely with the community and the staff here.”

Among the significant successes in the district is a sharp reduction in robbery reports around the Wrigleyville and Boystown neighborhoods, an area that previously set record-high hold-up stats for three years in a row and recorded more robberies than any other police beat.

City statistics show Wrigleyville and Boystown recorded just 20 robberies through the first four months of this year, down from 55 during the same period in 2016 - and the second-best opening to a year since at least 2001.

“We made it clear to the businesses that we would fully support their efforts to make money. But it would not come at a sacrifice to the law and public safety,” Buslik said. “There are still some business leaders who can't seem to get their heads around the fact that public safety leads to successful businesses, but most certainly have."

A 19th District bike team patrols Boystown. | CPD via Twitter
The commander also praised a legislative effort spearheaded by Lakeview Alderman Tom Tunney (44th) that bans late-night parking on a half-mile stretch of Halsted Street through Boystown. Tunney and police said the ban was needed to counter “car parties” in which groups would hang out on the sidewalks, blast music from cars, dance in the street, and drink booze from their trunks all night long.

The parking ban “was true problem solving and was supported by the business community,” Buslik remembered. “Those troublemakers were not their customers.”

Finally, Buslik said, “We changed how we police. No longer did we rely solely on the presence of a beat car on patrol. Instead, we have deployed bicycle and foot officers as well as targeted extra patrols…”

Calling himself “quite pleased with the results,” Buslik recognizes that “they remain dynamic and subject to continued evaluation of success or failure.”

Local residents have taken note of the improvements, including one couple who recently gave Buslik his proudest moment as leader of the 19th District.

“They said that had moved to the area a few years ago and about two years ago were seriously thinking about relocating to the suburbs because they felt unsafe and isolated in their local community,” he remembered. “But the letter went on to say that because of their interaction with the officers in the field and then later the staff in our Community Policing Office they felt a renewed sense of belonging to a thriving, safe community…This made me feel darn good about what our officers and supervisors have done here. I'm glad to have been a part of that effort.”

So, what’s next? Buslik plans to take the summer off before continuing his teaching roles at UIC and Oakton College in Des Plaines. As for rampant rumors that he's interested in heading up a suburban police department, Buslik says those are just rumors.

“I have no interest in being a police chief,” he insists. “Of course, that's what Eddie Johnson said!”
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