Frank Fagiano, chief of the Elmwood Park Police Department, has been on the job since 1993. He has solved many crimes, and brought countless criminals to justice. But when asked if any of those crimes stand out in his mind, the answer comes easily.
Fagiano instantly recalls a particular crime in 1998, when he was a detective. A young woman was working at a Burger King by herself when a man wearing a mask came into the fast food restaurant, robbed it, and then sexually abused her. Fagiano and another detective found her, handcuffed and distraught.
“Within five hours of the incident, I and the other detective had built a solid case against the assailant. The crime ended up going to court, and he was found guilty. And he won’t be released from prison until 2065,” he recalls. “Even after I retire, I’ll never forget that case. We spent so much time working on it even after we had the assailant arrested. It was just so rewarding to be able to put him in jail.”
Fagiano is a big fan of old police movies, as well as modern crime shows on television. However, he knows all too well the vast difference between real life and Hollywood fiction, even if the citizens he serves do not.
“I’ll get calls from people wondering why I didn’t get a result based on fingerprints back in two minutes like they see on TV. In reality, it takes weeks to get the results of fingerprints back,” he explains. “People don’t understand how much paperwork is required and how many lengthy reports need to be written. On TV, the detectives go home right after a case is solved, and that isn’t how it happens.”
Fagiano remembers how, when he first joined the force, even the simplest task took hours. “If I wanted to attain a photo of someone for a six pack (a police term for a six-man photo line-up), I would have to drive down to the Chicago Police Department, find a copy of the man’s license, and match it manually,” he says. “Now, if I need to find an arrest photo, everything is online. It takes 10 minutes instead of three hours.”
As chief of police, Fagiano knows how important it is to keep pace with the constantly changing technology of law enforcement. “When I started out, we had to handwrite everything because the Internet and Microsoft Word weren’t around, so my generation has to play catch up, a little bit,” he explains. “It’s important that we stay on top of things, though, because the younger officers in the department are comfortable with technology and are eager and willing to learn more.”
Regardless of how much has changed, Fagiano knows that one aspect of the job remains constant. “Being a police officer is the most rewarding job you can have, because you get to do the right thing every day,” he says. “I like to say that, as police chief, I come to work every day and put on my 20/20 glasses so I can be fair and objective to my employees, the citizens of Elmwood Park, and everyone I come in to contact with.”
If Fagiano could give one piece of advice to a young man or woman looking to get into the field, it would be, “If a case you’ve been working on goes to court, you need to realize the verdict is out of your hands. As long as you did the best job you could have done, the system will take it from there.”