Elgin police Deputy Chief Cecil Smith is among five finalists for the police chief's job in Sanford, Fla., a town that made national headlines after the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin last February.
Smith, 51, a 25-year-veteran of the Elgin department, said he will be flying to Florida on Sunday for a two-day interview process Tuesday and Wednesday that will include a community forum.
Smith called it "a great opportunity and a great challenge."
"It's not a matter of wanting to leave Elgin. I have to honestly say I love Elgin. My children have all been raised here," he said. "It's an opportunity to branch out and seek doing something different."
Martin, 17, was unarmed when he was shot and killed Feb. 26. The man charged with second-degree murder, George Zimmerman, says he was defending himself in the case that is steeped in racial overtones.
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee was relieved of his duties in June after a no-confidence vote by the city council. The vote stemmed in part from the police department's handling of the case, Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. said.
The town now has an interim chief of police; 76 candidates applied for the chief's post, Bonaparte said.
"One of the challenges we're having right now is the lack of trust from some segments of the community in the police department," he said, adding six people have held the top post in the last two years.
Smith acknowledged the Florida job is unique.
"The town has gone through a lot of different things. The police department as well," he said. "Any community can come together. It's actually a matter of sitting down to discuss what the issues are and coming up with solutions that are going to be reasonable to both sides."
Smith started in Elgin as a patrol officer in 1988, then worked in the gang unit, resident officer program and community relations until he was promoted to sergeant in 1999. He moved up to lieutenant in 2003 and was appointed deputy chief in 2008.
The other four finalists for the Florida job are Kevin Canavan, deputy chief of the Nassau County Police Department in New York; Rafael Hernandez, investigator with the Miami-Dade state attorney's office and former police chief in North Miami, Fla.; George Markert, executive deputy chief and director of public integrity for the Rochester Police Department in Rochester, N.Y.; and Sandra Wilson, deputy chief with the Clearwater Police Department in Clearwater, Fla.
Last year, Smith also applied for the police chief job in Crystal Lake, but he lost out to former Downers Grove Police Chief James Black.