31 March 2009

Godspeed Chief

Sheriff's police chief retires after 30 years

From the Southtown Star's website.

BY WILLIAM LEE, staff writer

After 30 years of quieting jail inmates, busting drug dealers and tracking murderers, the chief of the Cook County sheriff's department is calling it quits.

Bill McHenry suits up today for his last day on the job that saw him work his way up from jail guard to the department's first full-time black chief.

"I'll miss the camaraderie of the people I work with and the staff and the excitement of being a policeman," said McHenry, a resident of the south suburbs. "It's just the right time to go."

Last week, McHenry, 54, had a farewell tour through the different county offices, including the sheriff's police office at the Markham Courthouse to say his goodbyes.

"He's going to be very difficult to replace - if that's possible. He just has unique skill sets that you can't get anywhere," Sheriff Tom Dart said. "He's one of the nicest, most humble people you ever met, and he combines that with incredible intellect."

In addition to being a jail guard at Cook County jail, McHenry also served as a patrol officer, detective, sergeant and commander of the gang unit. He's also served the criminal intelligence and vice squads. He's been chief since December 2006.

He is the first black sheriff's police chief to rise through the ranks. In 1986, Sam Nolan became the sheriff police's first black top cop, but on an interim basis.

McHenry's greatest accomplishments were the crackdown of suburban drug markets in the 1990s using surveillance, which has become a major weapon used by the Chicago police department. The plan, which he spearheaded, resulted in hundreds of drug arrests from Evanston to Ford Heights.

McHenry had come a long way after graduating from Arkansas State University in 1977 seeking a career in law enforcement. After briefly serving as a deputy sheriff in his native Arkansas, he moved to Illinois in 1978, serving as a juvenile probation officer in Lake County. The next year, he began work as a jail guard in Cook County, where he worked until moving to patrol in 1981. He lived in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood and the South Chicago community before moving to the south suburbs.

During his long career, one of his most troubling cases, he said, was when the bodies of two newborns were discovered in an alley garbage can in Stickney Township in June 2003.

"The death of children and seeing them is really difficult to deal with," said the father of two adult children and grandfather.

McHenry said he looks forward to a more quiet life, though he doesn't rule out a future gig in law enforcement.

"I can go back and spend some time with the family, enjoy retirement for a while," he said.

26 March 2009

13 March 2009