With a new job awaiting him in Oklahoma, Mike Chitwood reflects on his controversial 17-year career with the Philadelphia Police Department.
Photographs by Jeff Fusco
"I'm calling," Mike Chitwood says into his cell phone, "to see if I can rent a truck for a one-way trip to Oklahoma."
Chitwood is driving south on Broad, toward home. He's put in a 14-hour shift, and his eyes are heavy. But he's smiling.
"I want to drive a truck to Shawnee, Okla.," he continues, "and leave it there. How much would that cost me?"
He listens to the response, snaps his phone shut and states the obvious. "Looks like I'm going," he says. "I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna go to Oklahoma."
Among many of his fellow officers, the departure of Philadelphia Police Lt. Michael Chitwood will be cause for mourning. If he wants to become police chief in Shawnee, Okla., they'll say, more power to him. But they wish he'd stay.
The 41-year-old Chitwood holds 58 departmental commendations for meritorious service, bravery, valor and heroism. In 17 years on the job he took part in two shootings-the perps missed; he didn't-and engendered a loyalty from his subordinates normally reserved for football coaches.
The police officers who worked under him during a short stint on South Street in the summer of 2001 say arrests rose dramatically when he was on that beat. The police captain who oversaw Chitwood's work in the Southwest Division says they led the department in arrests and solving cases during his time there.
"I'm not saying that was all due to Mike Chitwood," says Capt. Stephen Glenn. "But his enthusiasm is contagious. A guy like him gets everyone's competitive juices flowing."
But when PW tried to substantiate this praise through the Police Department, all statistics requests related to Chitwood were refused.
"When I put that request in, they're gonna ask what it's about," said Police Inspector Bill Colarulo, referring to the stats department. "When they hear it's a story on Chitwood, they're not gonna do it. To get a request like that for a fluff piece on Chitwood, they'll freak out."
Of course if the numbers bore out Chitwood's performance, they could demonstrate the impact one cop can have on the community he serves. Within the Police Department such stats could motivate malingerers or set a bar for young, aggressive cops to clear. But when Chitwood's name is invoked, common sense dissolves like a donut left soaking in coffee.
While some cops view Chitwood as a dedicated, driven capital-"S" Super Cop, others see him as a hot dog who uses the long arm of the media to give himself a highly publicized pat on the back.
Assemble stats to show what a good cop he is? No way. (See "Watching the Detectives")
As a result, even as he leaves Philadelphia to become police chief in the unlikely town of Shawnee, Okla., Mike Chitwood illuminates the highs and lows of the Philadelphia Police Department-from the promise of what a badge can mean at its best to the tension that can mount when one of those badges gleams too brightly.
A Chip off the Old Cop
When Mike Chitwood reaches his home on South Philly's Mole Street and opens the screen door, a FedEx package flops onto his stoop.
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