Current Events: A message from Director Brendan F. Kelly

On May 26, as I prepared to give an update on the Covid-19 response and legislation supporting first responders on the “All Law Enforcement Call,” I was also thinking about sending an LDALL to re-cap the extraordinary events of the first pandemic since 1918 and great response by the ISP.

After 2019, a year in which the loss of four troopers tested and strengthened our mettle, we entered 2020 with another unprecedented challenge. Again, the ISP met that challenge head on. The ISP completed missions for the Illinois Department of Public Health, for hospitals, for nursing homes, and for local law enforcement. The ISP armed ourselves and other departments with PPE and with the latest science on Covid-19 and we forged new and stronger relationships with local law enforcement. We walked the very fine line between education, enforcement and community caretaking. We lead security for the Illinois House Representatives in a special session to keep democracy going during a pandemic. We proved our worth and were spared drastic budget cuts by the state’s policy makers. Most importantly we protected the health of our people, avoided the fate of other departments around the state and around the country and managed to keep everyone alive. And despite all the obstacles, we gave birth to 93 more Troopers.

Basically, that day I was feeling pretty damn proud of the ISP, hopeful for our future, and ready to keep rebuilding.

And then came the videos from Minneapolis...

As we were making progress against one sickness- this new and little understood virus- another sickness broke out upon us- a sickness we have seen before, an ancient and ugly sickness, that has again and again infected this country, leaving scars and wounds that are easier to rip open than to heal, a sickness that has torn this country apart hundred times over since our birth, a sickness on the human soul, a sickness from which the noble men and women who serve in law enforcement are not immune, and the brunt of which too often you must bear.

That sickness is the reason why on May 30, instead of refocusing on the continued rebuilding and strengthening of the greatest law enforcement agency on Planet Earth, I was riding with a young District Chicago Trooper, through all the mess and people, to get to the JRTC in downtown Chicago, driving past broken glass, destroyed businesses and abandoned CPD squad cars.

And at a darkened JRTC, looking at the brave, sweaty faces of the ISP’s crowd control team, SWAT and K9, and walking through all the shattered glass in our building, there wasn’t much time for reflection or contemplation or “feelings” other than a quick moment of pride in the ISP’s efforts and being glad none of our people had been seriously hurt.

At that moment, more ISP were needed, the national guard was needed, an emergency had been declared, intelligence showed protests were being hijacked by opportunists and criminals all over the state, and peaceful voices were being drowned out by violence and destruction. There wasn’t a lot of time for conversation. There was just too much shit that had to be done because the immediate danger to public safety was spreading.

And spread it did. To Naperville. To Champaign, to other communities around the state, along with calls for help.

And the ISP answered.

In the midst of this unprecedented, essential response by ISP, there have only been a few moments where I’ve been able to express as your Director, publicly, in the media and on social media, that the death of George Floyd violated the values of integrity, service and pride. I’ve also said the conduct of those officers was tactically wrong, legally wrong and morally wrong.

Frankly, to anyone in the ISP these things are self-evident.

But mostly, during this time I have listened.

I have listened in part because it is the appropriate and respectful thing to do.

I have listened in part because it is my duty to protect and strengthen the Illinois State Police, and its logical and practical that I listen in order to have the information I need to perform those duties.

I have listened in part because saying anything, even well intentioned, can cause more damage sometimes.

I have listened instead of issuing empty statements filled with worn out clichés because nobody needs any more of that crap right now.

I have also listened because that is the best thing a leader can do sometimes...Shut up and really listen.

I have listened to the anger and frustration that so many in the ISP have about what happened in Minneapolis and the conduct of those officers.

I have listened to those within the ISP that have experienced unfair treatment or outright racism in their own lives.

I have listened to the anger and frustration that many in the ISP have about being blamed for the conduct of others, the damage to all the work done to build public trust in the community, the victimization of innocent businesses and communities already struggling, and the fears for law enforcement safety and resources.

I have listened to those in the ISP and other departments who have had enough of law enforcement alone being tasked with solving all the world’s problems and who frankly might welcome a refocusing on the fundamental missions of policing.

I have listened to the sage wisdom of retired state police and been reminded of the Peelian Principles of Policing, namely that “the ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions” and that “Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.”

I have listened to the peaceful protests and their heartfelt concerns about the inequities and injustices in our society including in the profession of law enforcement.

I have listened to those in the ISP who are upset that the daily good work of pursuing justice and serving others seems to be so quickly forgotten.

I have listened to those of you in the ISP who want to do everything we can to make sure our people never feel like they can’t step in and pull somebody back if they’ve lost situational awareness, or perspective or their humanity.

I have listened to voices from the COA, ABLE, HISLEA, the FOP, the Teamsters and also the ISP Heritage Foundation.

I’ve listened to those in the ISP that are worried that both the public and even law enforcement will divide and retreat back to the same old camps and arguments.

I have listened because my oath to uphold the Constitution requires me to listen to all citizens entitled to the protections and rights of the Constitution.

I have listened to my own friends and family, black and white, in law enforcement and out, to hear their experiences, to hear the pain and wisdom in their hearts.

I have listened because you cannot have criminal justice without social justice, and you cannot have social justice without criminal justice.

I have listened because my conscience and my faith require me to listen. I’m no saint. I curse like a sailor and I sin. But my faith teaches that all human beings are creations of God, that all human beings are loved by Him and that I must use my heart, mind and soul to love Him and to love all human beings as myself.

And my faith teaches that the 500-year legacy of African slavery is an enduring evil because it made God’s children into objects, property, and less than human beings.

And that’s the same reason why we are in this moment- because someone who held themselves out to be a protector did not protect, but instead betrayed their own humanity and treated a human being as an object, as less than a human being, as less than one of God’s children.

But I have had moments where I have struggled to keep listening. I love law enforcement. More specifically, I love the men and women of the Illinois State Police. Aside from being a husband and father, the Illinois State Police is the thing I love most being a part of in this world. So, when I see “F 12” and “A.C.A.B.” spray painted on walls and when I see men and women in the ISP being targeted by rocks and batteries and bricks just because of their profession- a good and noble profession- I get pissed. I’ve been at too many hospital bedsides with injured troopers and eulogized too many killed troopers not to get really angry when I see any one in the ISP being attacked.

But if getting pissed and angry is all I do, then I’m betraying what the ISP stands for.

We can’t let others define us and we can’t let others goad us into surrendering our humanity. We have to cling to our humanity, even when we are just plain pissed.

That’s what the ISP does.

I’ve seen troopers pray after responding to an awful single car deadly traffic crash. I’ve seen crime scene investigators stop for a moment of prayer over a victim's body. I’ve seen special agents stop for a moment of silence when a dead shooting victim is being driven away in an ambulance or hearse. I’ve seen those moments of unconditional compassion for victims that are saints and sinners alike and everything in between.

My own son is the survivor of a DUI hit and run done by a defendant with a terrible record- and we have prayed for him even though my son was the victim.

We have to. It helps us keep our humanity when we are closest to losing it.

So, on the last shift of the civil unrest response, with the crowd control team and SWAT at McCormack Center, with our Chaplain Father Hal beside us, with the noisy national guard trucks moving around in the background, we had a moment of silence. Not just to mourn the loss of one life that led to these terrible two weeks, but to mourn the pain of all who have suffered in some form or another from the ensuing violence, to mourn the loss of trust that will now have to painstakingly be reestablished, to grieve all that is broken that must again be rebuilt. And most importantly to pray that the ISP remains different and that we always keep our humanity.

As we move forward one thing is breathtakingly clear: we need MORE of the Illinois State Police.

No law enforcement agency is perfect, and we always can be better, but for answers to many problems facing 21st century policing you need look no further than the words of the Oath of an Illinois State Police Officer, an oath I’ve had the honor of administering to 195 new troopers since becoming Director:

“I pledge to be honest in thought, word, and deed; to maintain unimpeachable integrity; to be just, fair, and impartial; to be steadfast against evil and its temptations; and to give my utmost to protect the rights, property, and lives of our citizens... to make my conduct friendly but impartial, courteous but firm, and charitable to the inadvertent violator.”

Justice, fairness, courtesy, charity and impartiality are in the DNA of the ISP. And people know it.

When ISP’s northern CCT showed up on the streets of Chicago they were applauded and lauded not just by CPD, but by the public and politicians and protestors.

People know in 2020 you can call the ISP and they’ll answer with integrity, service and pride.

Who can secure hospitals and COVID test sites? Call the ISP

Who can expedite transport of COVID test kits?
Call the ISP

Who can coordinate the statewide law enforcement response to a global pandemic?
Call the ISP

Who has a policy and instructions for PPE use by law enforcement?
Call the ISP

Who can conduct background checks and vetting of PPE vendors, so they don’t scam the state?
Call the ISP

Who can send scientists to the public health labs to help with COVID testing?
Call the ISP

Who knows how to run an academy and graduate 139 new troopers during a pandemic?
Call the ISP

Who can secure the House of Representatives during a special emergency session?
Call the ISP

Who can support local law enforcement during statewide civil unrest?
Call the ISP

Who can coordinate intelligence between federal, state and local partners in Illinois?
Call the ISP

Who can facilitate and protect thousands of peaceful protestors from Michigan Avenue to Marion?
Call the ISP

Who can coordinate the first Illinois National Guard deployment for law enforcement support since 1968?
Call the ISP

Who can stand with the National Guard at their posts?
Call the ISP

As the policy makers have looked for ways to improve law enforcement this week, the ISP has been called upon once again.

Who has a reputation of integrity with the public?
Call the ISP

Who has a more vigorous background check process than the Feds?
Call the ISP

Who was the first CALEA accredited law enforcement department?
Call the ISP

Who has a best practice use of force continuum policy that teaches lethal force as a last resort?
Call the ISP

Who has a policy banning choke holds unless it’s a deadly force situation?
Call the ISP

Who trains their officers in Emergency Medical Response, not just first aid?
Call the ISP

Who does CAT training not just every-now-and-then, but every damn quarter?
Call the ISP

Who has a multi-step use of force of review process that continuously strives for improvement?
Call the ISP

Who has the most rigorous disciplinary process for law enforcement in the state?
Call the ISP

Who conducts independent, impartial investigations of officer-involved shootings and use of force all over the state?
Call the ISP

Who conducts independent, impartial investigations of officer-involved shootings and use of force all over the state?
Call the ISP

Who trains their officers in procedural justice?
Call the ISP

Who has diverse law enforcement leaders?
Call the ISP

Who is always asking themselves how they can be a better police department for the people they serve?
Call the ISP

Who could be a model for police that people can trust?
Call the ISP

10-21 the Illinois State Police!

Again, and again, you are proving the ISP is indispensable and essential to a safe future for the people of this state.

While the days ahead will still be long and filled with challenges, difficult choices and difficult conversations, the ISP will be there to help, to lead and offer solutions in this state thanks to all of you.

And while we lead, we will have to press ourselves to make sure we are living up to our own high standards.

Which brings me to my final point.

If we make and lead change for the better as the ISP always does, but we fail to address the mental health of law enforcement than we will have accomplished nothing.

We know that repeated exposure to trauma affects brain health, judgement and empathy. We know the most important tool a police officer has is not a squad car, or a computer or a badge or a Taser or a firearm, but the officer’s brain. Yet society sends officers repeatedly into the most horrific and traumatic environments without giving officers what they need to protect their brain health and wellness. That has been the status quo for far too long and it is no longer acceptable.

When a human being is repeatedly exposed to trauma without treatment, they don’t just become sick, they lose their humanity. And when a person loses their humanity, they can no longer see the humanity of the person in front of them, or next to them...or under their knee.

And we cannot allow that loss of humanity to happen- not to the Illinois State Police.

We are less than two years away from the one-hundred-year anniversary of the Illinois State Police. If we help to lead the way forward using that which is already strong and special about the ISP, and if we protect and strengthen the health and humanity of the ISP, then 2020 will not just be remembered as any other year, but as one of the best of those hundred years.

God help us to make it so.

God Bless You, God Bless your families, God Bless those we serve, and God Bless the Illinois State Police.

  • Brendan F. Kelly
  • --Director, Illinois State Police