By Nona Tepper
On Nov. 28, 1985, Mike Keating reported for his first shift as an auxiliary officer at the Forest Park Police Department. A native of Oak Park, Keating had watched as Forest Park police responded when his mother had fallen victim to crimes. He thought he might want to follow in their footsteps but wasn't sure. Less than a year later, Keating received a call that would change his life.
On the line was a police lieutenant who asked him, "Do you wanna be the cops or not?" Keating's answer made Forest Park history.
"I just thought every day would be different. I didn't want to do a desk job; I thought putting bad guys in jail was a cool thing," he recalled, adding: "It's definitely more of a calling than a job. Just like being a priest, you gotta really want it."
Thirty-four years later on Aug. 2, Keating retired as deputy chief of the Forest Park Police Department, ending his career in the second-highest post in the department, at a job he described as "a calling." He is responsible for developing the village's crime scene investigation unit, participated in Forest Park's first-ever plain-clothes tactical team, supervised the village's range officers and much more.
Keating will now become a school resource officer at Hinsdale South High School.
"I just like helping people, going out there and just making the neighborhood a safe and great place to be, especially Forest Park. Forest Park is one of the coolest towns," he said.
"I really think the people who live here, for most part, are always supportive of police. We're just trying to do our jobs and it's not so easy, especially now. Everybody thinks law enforcement's a bad entity when really we're the stopgap between total pandemonium."
Once sworn into the department, Keating served as a patrol officer until 1993, when he then started on the plain-clothes tactical unit. He and other officers donned disguises and caught criminals robbing trucks of spare tires, burglarizing homes and selling narcotics. The unit was designed to be proactive in treating crime, rather than simply responding to criminal acts after they occurred.
"That was really a blast, and that's what we did, we beat criminals at their own game," Keating said. "Forest Park started to get a reputation that, if you wanted to mess around, don't do it here."
In 2001, Keating was promoted to patrol sergeant but wouldn't stay in the post for long. Four years later, he was transferred back to the criminal investigations unit, where he supervised the tactical response team. He was later promoted to detective sergeant, where he worked with different state and federal organizations — including the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) — on a long-term drug trafficking project called "Heroin Highway." In 2013, he was promoted to detective commander, where he supervised law enforcement officials from 12 different jurisdictions.
Keating was trained by the FBI as a range firearms instructor, and also served as a carbine weapons instructor. He has studied forensic techniques at Northwestern University, and graduated from a 10-week law enforcement leadership program from the Evanston school.
On Aug. 10, 2015, he was sworn in as deputy chief of Forest Park police.
"I had a lot of drive and a lot of ingenuity when it came to working undercover and getting the job done," Keating said, explaining why he was consistently promoted in the department.
"You have to show respect [to criminals]. You don't have to agree with what they do, but there are a lot of reasons people commit crimes, not just they like doing it. A lot of times drug use is involved, and a lot of drug use drives the business. They're just people who have problems that need to be rectified and need to invest in themselves."
He remembers about 20 years ago, he was in a tiny town in northwest Wisconsin with his brother and young son. After a long day of snowmobiling, the trio sat around a bar with just seven other people. Outside, temperatures dipped 20 degrees below zero, with snow piled on the ground. Suddenly, a stranger across the bar yelled Keating's name. He looked up and instantly recognized the man as someone he had arrested for narcotics possession in Forest Park. He figured the man was about to start swinging.
"If something bad happens, just get the boy out of here," Keating whispered to his brother.
The man told Keating that, after he was arrested, he moved up north and started a lucrative business. He credited Keating with helping him turn his life around.
"To this day, I see people I arrested and they still say hi," Keating said. "It's funny, even if you're arresting bad guys, there's still a matter of respect. Even though I had a job to do, I still got along with them. … It's just a job and they knew it and you just had to treat them like human beings."
Over the years, Keating said he's watched public perception of police sour, and the behavior of criminals harden. Keating said his father used to work for NBC and back in the old days, cops and reporters used to drink in the same bar, developing a camaraderie. Civilians used to rush to help him handcuff criminals, he said.
Today, Keating said criminals are quick to whip out their iPhones and record short, fragmented encounters with police. Then he said they post their videos to YouTube, where they're picked up by media companies.
"Respect doesn't seem to be there anymore," Keating said, adding that he's also seen a rise in people acting "totally disrespectful" to late-night cops on Madison Street.
"You just have to realize the situation," Keating said. "A lot of times when cops get upset about stuff, they're taking it too personally. It's not personal. They're not mad at the officer, they're mad at the uniform, and the cop just has to take a deep breath and realize it's part of the job."
Every time he considered leaving Forest Park, he would remember the great relationships he developed, and the village's unique mix of crime that kept his job exciting.
"It's sandwiched between the city and the other suburbs, we have two different el stations, the expressway runs through here, we have busy streets, Roosevelt [Road], Madison Street, and I believe the last time I looked we have 44 liquor licenses. It makes for an interesting time," he said.
Police Chief Thomas Aftanas said he has spent the last two years thinking of who could replace Keating and expected to have an answer within a month. He must promote an officer who is already a ranking member of the Forest Park department, per state law. The promotion will create a ripple effect through the department because, for example, if Aftanas promotes a lieutenant to Keating's position, then a sergeant must be promoted to fill the lieutenant role, and a patrol officer has to be promoted to sergeant.
"It's a positive effect except for the vacancy it creates on the patrol shift," Aftanas said, noting that the sergeant's hiring list is currently expired. The Police and Fire Commission will give a new exam for candidates in October. In about two months, two officers will graduate from field training, and Aftanas said he might start the promotion then. As of now, everyone in the department is still being considered, he said.
In the interim, he said he and Lt. Steve Zanoni have picked up the extra work that Keating's void leaves.
"Mike was one of the best police officers we had here in the village of Forest Park. … That guy was able to locate the bad guys with no problem whatsoever, so I was able to learn a lot professionally," Aftanas said. "Not only was he a great police officer and a great deputy chief, but he was a friend of mine."