Westchester’s top cop born to lead
Westchester Police Chief April Padalik
Updated: February 11, 2013 7:43AM
WESTCHESTER — Born in Oak Park, April Padalik, 52, launched a career in law enforcement in 1983, and was selected Westchester police chief in July 2010. Her career started at a time when there were few females serving a local police or fire department. To this day she’s particularly eager to see a greater number of females consider law enforcement as a career.
Q: What inspired you to select a career in law enforcement?
A: Growing up in the seventies, I was intrigued with police shows featuring woman such as Angie Dickinson in “Police Woman.” I had a tight-knit family that stressed work first, play later and service. My father instilled a strong work ethic in all of us.
Q: How did you prepare for a career in law enforcement?
A: I studied criminal justice at Triton Junior College in River Grove. I also worked as a security officer at the North Riverside Mall. I became a security manager at 18 despite the fact most companies had a policy that you had to be 21. I was viewed by supervisors as being very mature for my age: They saw that I was very observant.
Q: What do you recall about your first year on the force?
A: I remember lots of verbal ribbing from the male officers. I had to develop a thick skin in order to establish a camaraderie — pick your battles and establish trust. But I knew I was finally accepted when my probation period was ending: the shift acknowledged me and my first anniversary on the job. The guys surprised me with candles in Hostess cupcakes to honor the end of my first year.
Q: Do you network often with other women in local law enforcement?
A: I’m very close to Chief Pam Church in Western Springs. Pam has been chief of police for several years now and her mentoring has allowed me to learn a lot from her experiences.
Q: What led up to you being selected as police chief in 2010?
A: I was serving as sergeant and a shift commander, and was one of four internal candidates under consideration. At the time, I had actually established a vision for the position. Over the years I would joke with my fellow officers when they would complain by saying, ‘when I’m chief, I’ll fix that.’ I had a running list of things I wanted to accomplish.
Q: Describe your management style?
A: I lead by example and do not believe in so called “dictatorship.” I don’t mirco-manage.
Q: What’s one change you’ve witnessed in 30 years, but one thing that’s remained the same?
A: Technology. When I started we used manual typewriters to type our criminal complaints. Financial times have changed, having to accomplish more with fewer resources. What has not changed is the scarcity of woman in law enforcement, especially in leadership positions, and I would like that to change. But this job is a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week, weekend and holiday obligation. It can place a strain on family life, and many young women are not prepared for that.
Q: What keeps you balanced?
A: I’m proud to say that I am not a “cop groupie.” I have a great network of friends and none of them are in law enforcement. I love to cook, hang out with friends, love music and reading.