Once considered by colleagues and community stakeholders as the most powerful black police officer in Chicago, Alfonzo Wysinger said these days he is fighting to recruit more blacks to pursue a career in law enforcement.
The former first deputy superintendent of the Chicago Police Department retired in October but said he plans to remain active in community affairs.
As second in command Wysinger, 53, oversaw several departments including the bureaus of Organized Crime, Detectives and Patrol.
At a Tuesday community meeting on Chicago’s West Side Wysinger was honored by the Leaders Network group for his 29 years as a public servant and spoke about his passion for seeing more black police officers.
“We are the only people in the city not lining up to get this job,” said Wysinger. “Two months ago I attended a police academy graduation and there were 140 graduates but only seven were black. So what does that tell you? That our future is bleak.”
He added that the person who decided he should become a police officer was God.
“I had a calling from God who put me back in the [Austin] community where I grew up to do his work,” Wysinger said. ”In 2005, when I was a commander in Austin, we had 18 homicides for the whole year, the lowest it’s ever been. That’s because people in the community came together to help solve problems and would work with the police. A lot of that has changed and I think part of it has to do with the [ethnic] makeup of the Chicago Police Department.”
According to census data, Austin is Chicago’s largest neighborhood with 97,471 predominately black residents.
The nation’s third largest city has a police force of nearly 12,500 with blacks making up a little more than 4,000 while whites make up half with nearly 7,000, according to CPD data.
One of the benefits to being a police officer, according to Wysinger, is the Officer Next Door Program, which provides financial assistance to officers buying a home in high crime neighborhoods like Austin, East Garfield Park and North Lawndale on the city’s West Side and Englewood, Auburn Gresham and Roseland on the South Side.
“The job pays well and offers health insurance, a pension, college tuition reimbursement and so much more,” he added. It’s not just a job, it’s a great career. We have to get these kids to see that we need them because without them our communities will continue to suffer.”
Starting salary for a Chicago police officer is $47,604 and then it increases to $72,510 after 18 months.
“What other profession allows a 21 year-old to earn that amount of money with only an associate’s degree?” Wysinger said.
Currently the police department is accepting applications as part of a recruitment drive, which began Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 16. And a written exam will be administered in February. The last time the police department accepted applications was in 2013 when 19,000 people applied.
Over the years recruiting blacks to the department was difficult, according to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said the city is partnering with neighborhood organizations and community stakeholders to help recruit more minorities.
“The effort this time is to use and modernize – 21st century communication – so we’re recruiting people where they live, where they work, where they socialize, in a way that we had not done before,” Emanuel said. “We want all parts of the city to be represented in the Chicago Police Department.
And Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said priority will be given to Chicago Public Schools graduates and the military. The goal, said McCarthy, is to increase diversity among ranks.
The Rev. Ira Acree, co-chairman of the Leaders Network and pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church, said Wysinger is a man of distinction.
“Al likes to work with people and is user friendly,” said Acree. “He is one of the coolest police officers you will ever meet. Men like him are great role models for our young, black males.”
And Deborah Graham, former 29th ward alderman, described her high school pal as “an awesome person that’s easy to work with.”
In the end, Wysinger, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., said unsolved murders and other crimes won’t get solved until the community gets more involved.
“[Once that happens] you will see a change in policing and a strained relationship between the police and blacks improve.”