Morton Grove police chief: ‘Not a better job on the planet’
Morton Grove Police Chief Mark Erickson. | Contributed photo
Updated: August 13, 2012 6:54AM
MORTON GROVE — When Morton Grove Police Chief Mark Erickson goes to work he sits in an office in the same building where he went to grade school.
A Morton Grove native, Erickson attended Grove School — since converted to Morton Grove’s Village Hall and Police Department. He also graduated from Park View School and Niles West High School.
Erickson hadn’t exactly planned to work in his hometown, but it was an opportunity he welcomed when it came.
“I either wanted to be a teacher or a cop,” he said. “This opportunity came first.”
Erickson tested for a job as police officer in Morton Grove and several other suburbs in 1984.
“I took a number of tests when I was 20 1/2 years old, the youngest you could apply, and Morton Grove was the first one to call,” he said.
Like all new officers Erickson started as a patrolman. At the time patrol officers rotated shifts every 28 days, a practice that since has been abandoned by many departments. Officers now are assigned to one of three shifts based primarily on seniority.
At the time though Erickson said it was hard trying to adjust to a new schedule every month.
But it’s still hard on younger officers who most often get stuck working night shifts.
“Being a patrol officer is a grind if you work the overnight shift and you have a family,” he said.
In 1991 Erickson became a Crime Prevention and DARE Officer, teaching classes to local fifth- and sixth-grade students, including those at his alma mater, Park View.
Among the many photos on the walls of his office are a couple of Erickson in uniform at Park View with his former teachers.
“I taught about 1,000 classes in five years, including some at Park View,” Erickson said. “I taught in some of the classes of my teachers.”
He became the department’s training coordinator in 1996 and was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 1997.
In 2000 he was promoted to commander of the investigations department, where he served until his appointment to deputy chief in 2005.
In 2009 at age 50 Erickson was appointed chief.
Despite working in his hometown, Erickson said he has rarely runs into people he knows while on the job, even when he was a patrolman.
“It was my hometown and there are pros and cons,” he said. “I’ve had very little interaction with people I know, which is really good. There’s a good quality of people in Morton Grove who stayed in Morton Grove.”
In some respects, Erickson said, the requirements for the have changed since he started. For one the educational requirements have increased since he applied.
Pretty much all departments demand applicants have at least an associate’s degree and some require a bachelor’s degree, he said.
But in other basic ways the same attributes that made for a good officer in 1984 make a good officer today.
“You’ve got to have common sense. You’ve got to have some intuition and you’ve got to know how to talk to people,” Erickson said.
After 10 weeks in the police academy and another 10 with a training officer Erickson said he can usually tell if somebody has the skills and basic nature to do the job.
“We find out very quickly. Unfortunately we’ve had to let people go,” he said.
The stresses of the job also can cause some officers to burn out, Erickson said.
“You can’t allow yourself to get bitter,” he said. “You very seldom get thank yous. You’re always the bad guy. Over a career it plays tricks with your mind.
“You have to be very conscious that when you’re going through your career you have to take care of the stresses in your life.”
As chief, Erickson said, he tries to keep in mind how his decisions will impact not just current officers, but those in the future.
“Every time I make a decision I think, ‘How is this going to affect the guys who are going to be here the next 20 years and the guys following me?’ ” Erickson said.
Erickson said the current Morton Grove Department, with many young, enthusiastic officers, is as good as any police department he has ever seen.
“I’ve got to say, we have now the best police department I’ve seen in my career,” he said. “We have some of the best personnel I’ve seen.”
And even with the stresses of the job Erickson said it’s a job he has never stopped enjoying.
“It’s a great job. It’s a great community,” he said. “It’s not easy, but it’s fun. There’s not a better job on the planet.”