Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week’s Chicagoan is Janice Wilson, 35, police officer and youth baseball coach.
There are a lot of African-American female officers. However, there should be more. There should be more women on the force, period.
I’m from West Englewood, the far south side, near Altgeld Gardens. I grew up on a block where everybody knew everybody, and everybody was family. Crime was high there, especially in the 90s. But whenever I saw the police, I knew that they were coming to help, coming as our friends, even though they were coming for something that was probably not so great. I didn’t have a fear of the police. I can’t really say why I didn’t, I just didn’t. I was like, “Aw, I want to do that. That’s so cool.”
When I was in my last year of college, my best friend at the time knew I wanted to be a police officer, and she was like, “Hey, they’re hiring.” So I went to the library, I filled out the application, I paid the $25 application fee, and once I got the call, I had graduated. I graduated from college in 2003, and I became an officer in 2004.
The police academy? I thought it was going to be tougher than what it was. It was actually fun. After the academy, I went to work in the Fourth District. The station is on 103rd and Luella. That’s where I started my training in the field. You have to do three cycles of training, working on each watch—days, afternoons, and midnights. You work with another officer who walks you through it. They’re training you on radio etiquette, officer safety, learning your beat, writing reports. At the time nothing was automated, so we handwrote our reports. My first day on the street, I was with my field training officer, who did a lot of traffic. We rode around, we stopped a lot of cars that were in violation, and on one of those stops, we got a guy with a gun.
My job now, I’m the business and community engagement liaison for the Seventh District, the Englewood community. It’s a loving community that needs our support to become even better. What I do on a day-to-day basis is build relationships with the residents, the businesses. Visiting them, talking with them, seeing what their needs are, instead of assuming that we know what people need. We may get a call to respond to something as simple as people loitering, or we may have to contact the alderman’s office with a community service request. We go to block parties, we go to sporting events, we give safety talks.
My days aren’t set; I may get pulled in any direction. But I know for a fact on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ll be coaching at the police youth baseball league, which is sponsored by an organization called Get in Chicago. The goal is not only to provide safe summer activities for kids, but to help improve the relationship between police and the youth. You have to start young.
A lot of the kids in the league say now, “Hey, I want to be police when I grow up.” They’re not afraid of us. They come to us when they see us; they give us hugs and high fives. That is huge. We feel that those are our kids too. We look forward to being there for those kids every week. Every week. v