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CPD has evolved, no longer aiming to ‘impose our will,’ retiring high-ranking cop says

“We got to just say, ‘We’re going to come in, and we’re going to work with you to make your community safer so your kids can play in the park. And our kids can play in the park,’ ” Anthony Riccio says.

First Deputy Supt. Anthony Riccio.
First Deputy Supt. Anthony Riccio.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

When Anthony Riccio became a Chicago cop in 1986, he says the Chicago Police Department was an “occupying force.”

“We would try to lock down the neighborhoods,” Riccio, who is retiring as first deputy superintendent Aug. 1 after nearly 34 years with the department, said in an interview Tuesday. “We’ve evolved now to the point where we’re more of guardians. We want to work with the community to make it safe. We’re no longer coming in there to impose our will.”

Riccio said he sympathizes with the protests that have grown out of George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis cop earlier this year, but he doesn’t understand the looting and violence that accompanied the demonstrations.

He said the double whammy of COVID-19 and the Floyd killing have resulted in cops across the country “being a little cautious right now,” and that has emboldened more people to carry guns in Chicago and elsewhere.

“It caused police officers to go back on their heels a little bit,” Riccio said. “One segment [of society] has this anti-police mentality going right now. I think people see that as an opportunity to carry guns and to commit more crimes. And that’s why we’ve seen this spike in shootings and murders.

“We can’t live in a city that accepts merciless shooters” willing to inflict collateral damage on children, Riccio said. “We’ve got to just hit a reset button in the community. We got to just say, ‘We’re going to come in, and we’re going to work with you to make your community safer so your kids can play in the park. And our kids can play in the park.’

“And we have to be able to support the officers and realize that these officers are doing a good job, there’s no malice in their hearts, they came on this job to work hard and to protect the citizens of this city.”

Riccio said he supports Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s multimillion-dollar investment in community groups working in the streets in an effort to prevent shootings in Chicago. But he said those organizations must be held accountable when their strategies don’t work.

In 2018, Riccio became first deputy superintendent — then the department’s No. 2 job, before the position was split into operations and reform jobs, with him overseeing operations. He previously ran the specialized gang and drug units in the Organized Crime Bureau and was a supervisor of hundreds of detectives.

He said he views three former police superintendents as mentors: Phil Cline for his focus on gangs, guns and drugs, Garry McCarthy for holding commanders accountable at his sometimes draconian “CompStat” meetings and Eddie Johnson for stressing community relations.

“I think you learn as much from the good leaders as you do from bad leaders,” Riccio said. “I’ve seen a lot of bad supervisors over the course of my career, and I thought: ’I never want to be like them.’ ”

He said the department needs to keep rolling out the reforms spelled out by the Justice Department after it investigated the 2014 fatal shooting by a cop of Laquan McDonald and how Chicago cops were doing their jobs. A revised policy on officers’ use of force and new training were good steps, according to Riccio.

“Training can’t be just, ‘You train in the academy, and then, for the next 34 years, we don’t update your training,’ ” he said.

First Deputy Supt. Anthony Riccio.
First Deputy Supt. Anthony Riccio.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

He said his worst days on the job were those when officers died in the line of duty. He has gotten choked up at ceremonies at which those officers were honored. While being interviewed Tuesday at police headquarters, he struggled to keep his composure when the subject came up.

“Those days are bad, horrible,” he said.

Riccio said he’ll take at least a month off before he decides what to do next — besides working on his golf game.

One possibility: becoming the chief of a suburban police department.

“But I’m not opposed to becoming a snowbird,” he said. “I don’t like winter anymore.”