Chief Luis Tigera says he is finishing his public service career in the town where it started, the Chicago suburb of Niles, IL. He started out in Niles in 1980, then moved on to the Illinois State Police where he rose to second in command. In 2011, he left the ISP for a chief’s job in another city and then came full circle back to Niles in 2017.
Like a lot of law enforcement agencies, the Niles PD is experiencing the challenges of an officer shortage. “We’re experiencing a retirement wave,” Tigera says. “Eight or nine officers were hired on here 20 to 25 years ago. Some have retired and others will be retiring soon.”
Tigera says the loss of officers to retirement and difficulty in hiring new officers is straining some of the officers on his department. “It’s stressful for those officers who are still working the street and covering patrol,” he says.
Niles PD is addressing officer stress in two ways. “It’s essential that the officers know they are supported both internally (by the agency) and externally (by the community).
The other way the Niles PD is countering officer stress is that it hired a social worker to counsel its personnel. In fact the agency has just hired its second social worker, as the first one has decided to seek other career opportunities. Tigera says the agency’s first police social worker started out part-time, then became full time in 2020.
Tigera set up the social worker with a special office at police headquarters that has no internal access. Officers can come and go from counseling sessions without being seen by command or fellow officers. “It’s private. I don’t know who’s going in for counseling. I don’t need to know that,” he says.
Both social workers who have been hired by the Niles PD are former officers. “In today’s society where we see that officers are involved in suicides, it’s important to not just have a social worker on your agency but a police social worker,” Tigera says.
The new Niles PD social worker is coming from the Chicago Police. “She’s a former officer and currently a social worker for the Chicago PD,” Tigera says. “She’s been doing this for I believe three, maybe four years. So she’s coming to us with experience.” Like the previous Niles PD social worker, she will be teaching officer wellness and counseling officers one on one.
She will also be called out of the office to help officers with emotionally disturbed persons in the community and for certain domestic violence incidents. That’s one reason that Tigera believes it’s best that social workers hired by police departments have experience working as cops.
“It’s not a job requirement,” Tigera says. “We were lucky that the previous social worker was a former officer and now the new one is a former officer. I saw how important that was in the relationship the previous social worker had with our officers.
“Officers, you know, can be tight-lipped. If they don’t know you, they are not going to talk to you. But the previous social worker had a good relationship with the officers because of his background. Because the new social worker is also a former officer, I’m hoping she will have the same relationship with both our sworn and non-sworn personnel,” he says.