Photo by Dermot Connolly
Oak Lawn Police Chief Michael Murray is retiring after 30 years with his hometown police department. He has served as chief since 2013.
Retiring Oak Lawn Police Chief Michael Murray said he has enjoyed every minute of his 30-year career with his hometown department, “but it is just time to go.”
Murray, 55, is a lifelong resident of Oak Lawn, and joined the department in July, 1987. Tomorrow, Friday, will be his last day in the office, and as of next Monday, he will be officially retired. His replacement had not been announced as of Tuesday, but Murray said “they are hiring from within,” and two division chiefs are being considered.
“It has been an honor to serve this village. It has been a great career, and I enjoyed it,” said Murray, during an interview with The Reporter while he was packing up his office earlier this week. A graduate of St. Catherine of Alexandria School and Marist High School, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology with an emphasis on law enforcement at Illinois Benedictine College in 1984.
“IBC didn’t offer a law enforcement degree when I was going there, but I was already leaning in that direction,” he explained. “After graduating, I kind of spread the net around, applying at a few different departments, and I was lucky to get called here.”
While he has had “a couple of offers,” for second-career jobs, Murray said he plans to take his time deciding what he will do next.
“I am not going to rush into anything, except maybe to go on vacation with my wife, Cathy,” said the chief. “We have family spread around the country, and we might visit them. It will be nice to go on vacation without having to worry about the cellphone and email going off all the time,” he said with a smile.
The Murrays have five children: Tim, Molly, Christopher, Allyson and Benjamin, and the chief noted that Tim is currently living in Colorado, and Christopher is in Virginia.
“Technology is probably where I’ve seen the biggest change in my career,” said Murray, who spent five years in the patrol division before switching to investigations. He was promoted to chief in 2013.
He noted that while cameras seem to be everywhere now, when he first started out, “everything went through Chicago.” Oak Lawn police officers had to go to Chicago Police headquarters to get any crime scene photos.
“You could wait hours at 11th and State to get a black-and-white photo, and if you needed a color photo, it could be days. Now, you can practically conduct an investigation from your desk,” he said.
“The easy availability of information, and social media, had helped us. But for every piece of technology that makes things easier, someone will find a way to use it in a harmful way,” he said.
“Criminals don’t need a gun to rob you anymore. They can do it over the computer or telephone,” he added.
Murray admitted getting frustrated sometimes with social media as well.
“I can’t understand how some people post on social media about crimes they have seen committed before they even call the police. I tell them that that phone in their pocket that they use to take photos also makes calls. Calling 911 is still the quickest way to get police on the scene,” he said.
“At every community meeting I go to, I tell residents that they really are our eyes and ears. We need them as much as they need us,” said Murray. Surveillance cameras that have been installed on their homes have also helped the police, he noted. “Identifying who the bad guys are is the main goal.”
“We are servants of the community. Residents do pay our salaries. But crime-fighting is a shared responsibility,” he said.
Murray was feted at the last Village Board meeting he attended as chief on July 11, when Mayor Sandra Bury called him to the podium.
“Thank you for your dedication. You made some tough decisions and you always did the right thing,” said Bury.
“I can remember when they hired you,” said Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th), who retired from the police department as chief of patrol.
“I am proud to have known you, and proud to have worked with you, in the department and here (on the Village Board),” said Vorderer.
“You made my job a lot easier,” said Trustee Bud Stalker (5th). “I don’t have a law enforcement background, and you explained why things are done the way they are.”
“You have always cared about the village of Oak Lawn,” said Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd), another lifelong village resident. ”Thank you for your service. I can’t believe how quickly 30 years have gone.”
“I feel like the credits are running at the end of the movie. You heard what you needed to hear. I always tried to keep the community in the forefront,” said Murray. “There are some things I won’t miss, but I will miss the people I have worked with.”
He expounded on that thought during the interview this week, and said he didn’t believe in individual honors.
“It is always a team effort,” he said. “I will always remember the people I’ve worked with, from the time I started until now. You don’t get through this job alone. Nothing happens just by yourself. At every junction, there is someone helping you. The team effort in law enforcement is very important. You don’t do this job in a bubble.”