Buffalo Grove chief had big plans for international police group in 2020. Fate had other ideas.

  • Buffalo Grove Police Chief Steve Casstevens speaks with Vice President Mike Pence during a roundtable discussion with law enforcement in the State Dining Room of the White House in June. Casstevens has made four visits to the White House as president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

    Buffalo Grove Police Chief Steve Casstevens speaks with Vice President Mike Pence during a roundtable discussion with law enforcement in the State Dining Room of the White House in June. Casstevens has made four visits to the White House as president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

  • Buffalo Grove Police Chief Steve Casstevens sat down with U.S. Attorney General William Barr in early September to discuss law enforcement issues as part of his duties as president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

    Buffalo Grove Police Chief Steve Casstevens sat down with U.S. Attorney General William Barr in early September to discuss law enforcement issues as part of his duties as president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Courtesy of the International Association of Chiefs of Police

 
Updated 12/11/2020 8:58 AM

When Buffalo Grove Police Chief Steve Casstevens was sworn in last fall as president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, it was the culmination of more than four decades of dedication to his craft.

As head of the world's largest association of police leaders -- with more than 31,000 members in 160 countries -- Casstevens literally was at the peak of his profession. And with an agenda that included addressing the troubling rise in police officer suicides and making roads safer around the globe, he had big plans for his one-year term.

 

Fate had other ideas.

Months into his tenure, Casstevens found himself helping law enforcement leaders around the world cope with the unprecedented challenges of policing through the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Then, in the wake of the video-recorded killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police May 25, Casstevens was thrust into the national spotlight, both as a defender of his profession and as a leader in the effort to find common ground on reform.

Casstevens took time to speak with us about the highs and lows of his turbulent year at the helm of the IACP and how he faced the challenges of 2020. Here's a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length:

Q: Your term as IACP president encompassed what had to be one of the most tumultuous and trying times for law enforcement in American history. What was it like being at the center of all that?

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A: You know what they say about the best laid plans. When I look back at October of last year, when I was sworn in as president and long before COVID or civil unrest or anything, I had some significant priorities and things I wanted to accomplish. I had probably close to 25 international trips planned, from Interpol and Europol and our standard IACP presidents trips to Australia, Taiwan, Ireland, all over. And then that worked out for a couple of months until March, and everything changed. I had three priorities. One was to address the increased rate of police officer suicides. The second one was to address police response to active threats, which is different than active shooters. And then the third one was to address, since we are the international chiefs of police, global road safety in some of these struggling countries. And all that kind of had to be put aside and priorities had to be changed, initially to address the police response to COVID and (its effect) on the way we operate. And then, of course, after that was a lot of civil unrest, dealing with all that.

Q: Given how the year played out, did you ever have second thoughts about agreeing to take on this role?

A: Not at all. It took me 44 years to get to that spot. That's how long I've been in this profession. And really, the pinnacle of a police chief's career, if that's what they want to do, is to serve as president of the IACP, because, as a police chief, there is no higher office than that. There's only been 107 presidents since the IACP was formed in 1893. So, that year has truly been the pinnacle of my law enforcement career, and whatever cards were dealt were the ones I had to play.

Q: Despite all the challenges of 2020, there had to be some moments along the way that you'll cherish forever What in particular comes to mind?

A: I had some opportunities that I would have never had. I always hesitate to start a sentence like this, but I always have to, I always say, regardless of your politics I still was honored to be invited to the White House four times during my presidency. And I don't care who's sitting in the office of the president and whether you're Republican, Democrat, independent, whatever. It's an honor to be invited and it's an honor to be there, and I know many of the past presidents of the IACP visited the White House, but certainly not under the circumstances that we had this year. So, I not only was honored to be invited, but honored to be able to sit down with President Trump and Vice President Pence, and Attorney General Barr and have some significant conversations about the topics of the day, being police reform and police use of force.

Q: There's been a lot of criticism and scrutiny of law enforcement over the last six or seven months. What is it that the critics don't understand about your profession and the people who make it their career?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A: Wow. Well, I could go on for an hour about that. And that's why so many police departments have citizen police academies to try to educate our residents on what it's really like to be a police officer. But I think some of the people who are the biggest critics are the ones who have never been to a citizen police academy, and who have never been through a "Shoot/Don't Shoot" scenario, where they have to make those split-second decisions on whether somebody is a threat to a police officer or not. And I think those are the biggest issues that I have with law enforcement critics. Pick up an application and become a police officer and stand in our shoes. If you really want to make a change in law enforcement, then be the change. Become a cop and be the change, or partner with your local law enforcement agency and learn what it's like to be a cop. Learn what it's like to be an officer on a midnight shift at (3 a.m.) that walks up on a suspicious car or a suspicious person, and you don't know if that's the night that you're going to run into somebody who's just a drunk, or if you're going to run into somebody who just burglarized someplace and is going to turn around and shoot you in the head.

And those things go through your mind. And you have to make those split-second decisions that you're going to have to live with the rest of your life if you made the wrong one.

More to come

Check back next week for more of our conversation with Casstevens. He'll address law enforcement reforms, efforts to combat the troubling rise in suicides by police officers and struggles across the nation to recruit new cops.

Fighting the opioid crisis

Cook County health officials and suburban police departments are teaming up for a new initiative to prevent opioid overdose deaths and get those who abuse opioids into treatment.

Formally announced Wednesday, the initiative has four major components:

• Assistance for departments that want to establish "deflection" programs that refer people with substance use disorder to community-based treatment as an alternative to incarceration or the emergency room.

• Training for police on opioid overdose and use of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone.

• Distribution of naloxone to police departments and community partners.

• Data collection and analysis on opioid use and overdoses.

Officials said at least a dozen suburban police departments will be starting new deflection programs through the initiative.

Among them are Maywood, which has one of the highest overdose death rates in the suburbs, and Markham.

"My officers have been buying naloxone out of their own pocket. I have, too," Markham Chief Terry White said in the announcement of the program his week. "We want to establish a deflection program in Markham because our first priority as a police department is to help people. We don't want to be locking people up just because of dependency."

• Got a question, comment or a tip? Email us at copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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