'I'm not here to make friends': Ex-Aurora chief's book examines policing, leadership

  • Former Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman recently published her book, "Reimagining Blue: Thoughts on Life, Leadership, and a New Way Forward in Policing." She describes it as part memoir, part reflection on leadership and part story of women's empowerment.

    Former Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman recently published her book, "Reimagining Blue: Thoughts on Life, Leadership, and a New Way Forward in Policing." She describes it as part memoir, part reflection on leadership and part story of women's empowerment. Courtesy of Amplify Publishing

  • Kristen Ziman became Aurora's first female police chief in 2016 and led the department for five years until her retirement last year, including through a mass shooting in 2019 that left six people dead.

      Kristen Ziman became Aurora's first female police chief in 2016 and led the department for five years until her retirement last year, including through a mass shooting in 2019 that left six people dead. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, 2018

 
Updated 5/6/2022 9:08 AM

"These musings will probably upset people on both sides of the issues, and I'm okay with that. I'm not here to make friends. I'm here to offer you a perspective into my world and the complexities of being a cop and a boss of cops. My heart has been cracked open, and what is spilling out might surprise both of us."

With that, former Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman wraps up the introduction to "Reimagining Blue: Thoughts on Life, Leadership, and a New Way Forward in Policing," her recently published book examining her more than three trailblazing decades in law enforcement and the lessons learned from it.

 

When we caught up with Ziman this week at her new home in Naples, Florida -- where she's enjoying the more than 80-degree weather -- she described her book as part memoir, part reflection on leadership and part story of women's empowerment. The first woman to serve as chief of the Aurora Police Department, Ziman also was a finalist for the chief's job in Chicago and Nashville before she decided to retire last year.

"I'm a female who has broken through barriers in a male-dominated profession, and I was uncomfortable with that most of my career, but now I understand that visibility matters," she told us. "So women are going to love this book.

"It's also about police. It's about how we can be better, because even when we're good, we can always be better. It's also a leadership book. It's the lessons I've learned being a boss, and from failing and what not to do."

Ziman also explores how her childhood shaped who she is and led to her wanting to be a police officer from a young age. How her career was bracketed by two seismic events in American policing -- the 1991 beating of Rodney King and the 2020 murder of George Floyd. And how the 2019 mass shooting that left six dead at an Aurora factory led her to a new, post-retirement mission.

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"My passion in life now is to prevent the next mass shooting," said Ziman, who speaks to businesses and other organizations across the country about mass shooting preparedness. "In 99 out of 100 of these mass shootings, there were red flags -- we're tripping over red flags. And so I want to go into organizations and teach them about the culture of reporting and threat matrix and things that they can do."

'This is vulnerable'

Writing is nothing new for Ziman. She kept a blog while serving as Aurora's chief and wrote regular newspaper columns. It was a hobby and a form of therapy, she said.

But she didn't get serious about writing a book until 2018, when, after giving a leadership presentation, an audience member suggested it to her.

Her writing was derailed for nine months by the mass shooting at the Henry Pratt Co. in February 2019.

"I didn't understand why at the time, but now I do," she told us. "It was like an emotional block, because I knew I had to write about the shooting. And I knew I had to write about it at a deeper level than I was speaking about it at the time."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Ziman made her memories of the shooting and its fallout the first chapter of "Reimagining Blue," titling it "The Unthinkable."

While much of the book focuses on that and other key moments of her professional life, Ziman also delves into the personal, including some recollections she hadn't even told her children about.

We asked her, is it scary putting yourself out there like that?

"Terrifying is the right word," she said. "I mean, this is vulnerable, because it talks about my failures. It also talks about my very dysfunctional childhood that, now that I look back, has led me to leadership, and that was hard to talk about."

Readers can order a copy of Ziman's book online directly from her publisher, Amplify Publishing, at https://tinyurl.com/2p946zf4. Or, if you can wait for its full release July 12, you can pre-order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

And if you're interested in arranging a speaking engagement with Ziman or checking out what else she's up to, you can reach out at her website, www.kristenziman.com.

Bensenville cops honored

Bensenville police officer Steven Kotlewski has been praised as a hero while he continues his grueling recovery from being shot nine times in the line of duty last year.

Last Friday, Kotlewski was able to share some of the plaudits sent his way with the colleagues who were there to help save his life after he was shot that early November morning.

Kotlewski, Sgt. Michael Ptak, Detective Kristian Casillas and Officer Patrick Scanlan were honored April 29 with the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police Medal of Valor, an award given to law enforcement personnel who display significant bravery and courage in the face of imminent risk of death.

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police last week awarded Medals of Valor to, from left, Bensenville police Detective Kristian Casillas, Sgt. Michael Ptak, Officer Steven Kotlewski and Officer Patrick Scanlan, for their actions Nov. 5, 2021, when Kotlewski was shot in the line of duty.
The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police last week awarded Medals of Valor to, from left, Bensenville police Detective Kristian Casillas, Sgt. Michael Ptak, Officer Steven Kotlewski and Officer Patrick Scanlan, for their actions Nov. 5, 2021, when Kotlewski was shot in the line of duty. - Courtesy of Bensenville

"These officers displayed exemplary and heroic actions that day and will forever be remembered for their courage," said Ed Wojcicki, executive director of the ILACP.

Kotlewski, 38, was shot while responding to a domestic disturbance at about 1 a.m. Nov. 6. Eight bullets pierced his legs, an arm, his back and torso. A ninth was stopped by his protective vest.

In our April 15 column, we documented Kotlewski's difficult road to recovery, which includes physical rehabilitation at least three hours a day, five days a week. It's painful, exhausting work.

"It's not a matter of endurance," Kotlewski told us as he rested between exercises. "It's tolerance."

Bensenville Police Chief Dan Schulze said his department has been inspired by the outpouring of support it's received from the community, as well as the composure and selflessness of the officers at the scene Nov. 6.

"We're honored to see these officers receive such a commendable award," he said.

• Do you have a tip or a comment? Email us at copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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