Up until he retired in October, former first deputy superintendent Alfonzo Wysinger was the highest ranking black within the Chicago Police Department.
As second in command, Wysinger oversaw several departments, including the bureaus of organized crime, detectives and patrol.
But these days the 53-year-old husband, father and grandfather said when he is not playing golf or spending time with his family, he’s out in the community encouraging blacks to pursue a career in law enforcement.
In an exclusive interview with Austin Weekly News, the Austin native explained why getting more minorities to join the CPD is important to him.
“We are the only people in the city not lining up to get this job,” Wysinger said. “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.”
The nation’s third largest city has a police force of nearly 12,500, with blacks making up 4,010 while whites make up nearly half with 6,892, 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.
“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.”
Currently the police department is accepting applications as part of a recruitment drive, which began Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 16. A written exam will be administered in February. The last time the police department accepted applications was in 2013, when 19,000 people applied. Starting salary for a Chicago police officer is $47,604, which increases to $72,510 after 18 months.
Eligible officers are required to live in Chicago, be within 21 and 40 years old, obtain an associate’s degree and have no felony convictions.
According to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, recruiting blacks has been historically difficult, but now 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.
On Tuesday, Nov. 10, the Leaders Network held its monthly meeting at the Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 W. Jackson, and honored Wysinger, who was joined by his wife Marjet, who is herself a Chicago police officer. Wysinger was recognized for his service to the public and his commitment to improving Austin.
“Al likes to work with people and is user-friendly,” said the Rev. Ira Acree, co-chairman of the Leaders Network and pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church. “He is one of the coolest police officers you will ever meet. Men like him are great role models for our young, black males.”
Rev. Marshall Hatch, who also co-chairs the Leaders Network and is pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, added that the black community appreciates the dedication and service Wysinger provided to them during his tenure as a police officer.
“It will be a long time before we see another Al Wysinger on the police force,” he said. “This man not only cared about the people he served while a police officer, but he established relationships with those people, something not done by many officers working in the black community.”
Former 29th ward alderman Deborah Graham, who attended high school with Wysinger, described her high school pal as “an awesome person that’s easy to work with.”
But for all the accolades afforded to him, Wysinger said once the police department becomes more diversified with black officers, “I promise, you will start to see a change in the way the black community responds to crime. You will see people getting involved, working closely with the police and keeping our youth engaged in positive activities like church.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly described Deborah Graham as former alderman of the 28th ward, instead of the 29th ward. Austin Weekly News regrets this error.