Discussions with Police Chief Michael Ruth: Seeing Community as a Partner, Transparency as a Priority
Elmhurst Patch kicks off a series of articles based on discussions with our new police chief.
Police Chief Michael Ruth is on the job in Elmhurst as of today, Monday, Nov. 5. He came straight from his position as the top cop in Countryside without a vacation or even a little break in between, because, as he says, "I'm not wired" for time off.
"I'm elated to go to Elmhurst," he said last month. "I wish I was there now."
We spent some time getting to know the chief, learning a little about his philosophy when it comes to connecting with the community, reducing burglaries, protecting the most vulnerable citizens, drugs in the suburbs and basically getting the bad guys off the streets.
Really, we could have talked for days.
So, Elmhurst Patch wants to introduce you to Chief Ruth through a series of articles on these topics and more, beginning today with the chief's take on transparency, accountability and his plans for the first few months at the Elmhurst PD.
Hanging Out in Elmhurst With Dad
There is a sense of nostalgia in coming to work here, Ruth said.
His dad worked for nearly 30 years at a sheet metal company on Larch Street, and Ruth has fond memories of growing up in the 70s and going to work with his dad. He remembers visiting the downtown and the York Theatre.
"It was a big deal that we got to go to Elmhurst," said Ruth, who is a native of the South suburbs.
The city has changed quite a lot since then, but Ruth says he still feels a strong connection. Taking this job has been a dream come true, he said.
"I thought, in my wildest dreams, if I could go to Elmhurst, that would be great," he said.
And, while he's not required to live here, he is considering moving into town.
"It's a great town, a great community," he said. "The more I see, the more I like it."
A Difference in Size, but Not Philosophy
While Countryside has a population of only about 6,000, Ruth is not unfamiliar with policing a large population like Elmhurst's. He spent 29 years in Skokie, which has nearly 67,000 people. While the smaller agency allows him to spend more time mentoring other officers, the resources available at a large agency allow him to focus more on leadership.
"I walked through the (Elmhurst Police Department) a couple of weeks ago, and it feels like I'm back at home," he said.
But no matter the size of the agency, his leadership role remains the same.
"I believe in transparency. I believe in accountability," he said. "We were real big on that in Skokie, and that's one of the things I brought to Countryside."
Transparency will involve getting to know the residents of Elmhurst.
"Ninety-eight percent of our job is service," he said. "I lead from the front. It's not uncommon to see me in the office on the weekends, or driving the streets responding to calls. (I) show up at community events. I'm so blessed because I still love what I do after all these years."
Transparency also will involve sharing information with the public when appropriate—via email, a comprehensive online presence and neighborhood watch initiatives—and opportunities for public education, like the Elmhurst Citizens Police Academy.
Ruth was often the "face of the department" while serving as chief.
"Do a Google search on me and you'll see I was always out there. I was at everything," he said, referring his handling of media inquiries.
More Compassion Than 'Adam 12'
There are two models of policing, Ruth said. The old "professional model" is where the officers get in and get out during an investigation—"just the facts, ma'am," like you'd see on the old "Adam 12" TV series, he said.
Ruth believes in community-based policing, which is a much different approach.
Crime victims are traumatized when they are robbed or violated in some way, and they'll remember that for the rest of their lives, he said.
"Some people need a little more communication, a little more feedback and reassurance," he said. "The impact of crime is deep."
Open communication ultimately will help solve crimes, he said.
"We have to view the community as our partners," he said. "We'll be successful by working in partnership, communicating, breaking down barriers and finding common ground."
That philosophy applies to internal communications as well.
Other than being acquaintances with one or two members of the Elmhurst police force, Ruth didn't really know anybody from the city before he was hired. But he is learning quickly that the Elmhurst police are a proud bunch.
"They're very proud of the department and proud of their community," he said. "(That pride) is so strong."
Ruth's first order of business is to meet with every member of the department and "just chat."
"As soon as I get into Elmhurst, I want to assess what we have in terms of talent," he said. "There are many, many talented officers within the agency; it's a competent and capable staff.
"They can make an appointment, and if I need to come in at 11 o'clock at night to meet with our officers, then so be it. I want to know what their thoughts are."
On Monday evening, the public will have the same opportunity to chat with Chief Ruth at 7 p.m. in the foyer of City Hall, 209 N. York St. The city will host a meet-and-greet before he is sworn in during the regular City Council meeting at 7:30 p.m.