Q&A: New Des Plaines Police Chief
Former Chicago cop talks about background, management style and plans.
The City of Des Plaines will have a new police chief after Sept. 4, the city announced in a press release last week. Lakemoor Police Chief William Kushner, a 35-year law enforcement veteran, has accepted the post held by former Police Chief James Prandini until his sudden retirement at the end of 2011. Acting Police Chief Mike Kozak has served as interim chief since that time.
Kushner joined the Chicago Police Department in January 1977, became a detective in 1980, a sergeant in 1988 and lieutenant in 1998.
In 2006 Kushner left Chicago to take a police chief position in Berwyn, where he served until 2010, when he accepted his current position as police chief in Lakemoor.
Kushner recently spoke with Patch about his background, management style and plans for the Des Plaines Police Department.
Patch: How did you get started in law enforcement?
Kushner: When I was growing up, my mother and her twin sister always talked about their dad, Robert Johnston, who was a policeman in Chicago.
And I said, what ever happened to grandpa? Well, he got kicked in the shin and developed an infection, lost his leg and died. And I was like, wow.
When I was with Chicago, in one assignment I was actually assigned to the headquarters building. So in my free time I would do some research and I found out my grandfather’s star had never been retired even though, according to the pension board, he died as a result of injuries inflicted in the line of duty.
I did some digging and I found all the documentation, and I was able to get his star retired, and I was able to get his name on the state memorial and on the Chicago police memorial downtown.
Patch: How has your discovery of your grandfather’s history in law enforcement influenced your career?
Kushner: It’s not the family business per se, but there’s a family heritage to follow. And it’s made me more aware of where people are when I talk to them and how I watch their reaction so that I’m not the victim of a sneak attack like he was.
That’s pretty much the biggest thing. I taught at the police academy for about eight years. One of the things I taught was officer safety and officer survival, and it’s always, you don’t take a bad position, you always watch people.
You pay attention to what their actions are and what their emotional state is. That’s some of the things I learned from all the information I gleaned about my grandfather.
Patch: Given some of the reports involving Des Plaines police in the last year including allegations of falsified records, racial discrimination, a termination and suspension surrounding reports of misconduct, a lawsuit involving the reported beating of a handcuffed man and more, what can you say to residents concerned about these incidents?
It is cause for concern. I haven’t been privy to all the details of all the things you spoke of, but I am concerned about that.
If there is a handcuffed prisoner that is being beaten by two officers, that’s unconscionable.
Once the handcuffs go on, he’s in our custody and our care and we have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that he is not mistreated, abused or injured.
That’s one of the things the public needs to know is, this is what was alleged to have happened, this is the end result of the internal investigation, and, because I understand litigation was instigated last week regarding the case, it may be that it can’t be released at the time.
Patch: Do you have a vision for the Des Plaines Police Department?
Kushner: Right now, in my mind, the Des Plaines Police Department is a blank slate because all the reports that I’m getting at this point are out of the media. I haven’t sat down with anybody for any more than a minute or two to get quickly briefed on it, and what people’s perceptions of the problems are.
My plan is to sit down with the command staff, with the supervisors, with the rank and file officers and I want to find out what each group feels the issues and the problems are. And I’m sure there might be some divisiveness, but I’m willing to bet that when all is said and done everybody’s got the same issues, they just haven’t voiced them in the same way.
Then we’re going to work to resolve those issues. Whatever problems are there, we’re going to deal with the problems.
We’re going to restore public trust, we’re going to restore trust among the officers, we’re going to look at training, we’re going to look at equipment, we’re going to look at promotions. We’re going to look top to bottom to see what’s what, where we need to go and how are we going to get there.
Patch: What is your philosophy in terms of transparency and communication with the community?
Kushner: I don’t have any problem talking. I will speak with anybody. I will release any information I can so long as it doesn’t impede or interfere with an ongoing investigation or it’s prohibited by law. Be as transparent as possible. We really don’t have anything to hide from my perspective.
And as far as communicating with the public, I like to be out. I’m kind of a dinosaur in that I like the street. I like being out. I really don’t like being bound in the office or to a desk. I like to get out there all different kinds of hours, days and nights, different days of the week, and ride the streets, respond to calls.
It lets the officers know that they’re not alone and I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be out there working a beat car, number one. And number two it’s nice that the public gets to see the chief on the scene of things.
And if somebody wants to come up to talk to me when I’m on the street, I welcome it. I absolutely welcome it. I have no problem with that at all, and I hope that I get to meet quite a bit of the community in my time there.
Patch: How would you describe your management style?
Kushner: I like to manage by walking around. I learned that from a couple guys in Chicago that I considered mentors.
I don’t need to know what my employees’ credit histories are. I don’t need to know all the intimate details of their family life.
But I like to know, hey, this is John, and John’s got three kids and he’s active in his kids’ sports teams because when you approach your employees, your coworkers, and say, hey John, how’s the family, how’d your kids do at the football game this weekend, you’re more than just somebody sitting in an office on the top floor sending down orders and directives from time to time.
It builds a team, and that’s what the department needs to be. There has to be a team effort because everybody’s got to be working in the same direction for the same goal. And that’s the protection of the public, the protection of property and the betterment of the City of Des Plaines.