Officer Maureen O’Neill in her final days on the job at the Chicago Lawn (8th) District Police Station. --Greater Southwest News-Herald photo by Lorena Paredes
She bleeds blue
Officer Maureen O’Neill retires after 38 years
By Tim Hadac
If things appear a little unglued in the commander’s office at the Chicago Lawn (8th) District Police Station, it’s because Officer Maureen O’Neill recently retired after serving in the district for 38 years, 7 months and 1 day.
“It’s fair to say that in some ways, she is the Eighth District,” said new Commander Bryan Spreyne, who has worked with O’Neill for a number of years at the station at 63rd and Homan. “I think for a while, she may not feel like she’s retired because she may be getting a fair amount of ‘Where is this at?’ and “How do you do that?’ kind of calls from us.”
Since 2007, O’Neill has served as secretary to nine district commanders: James Carroll, Leo Schmitz, John Kupczyk, David McNaughton, James O’Donnell, Ronald Pontecore, Brian McDermott, Frederick Melean and Bryan Spreyne.
“It’s been a great run, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she said. “I’ve worked with some great people.”
A daughter of the Southwest Side
O’Neill grew up in Garfield Ridge, attending Kinzie School and Lourdes High School, where she graduated in 1977.
Her father, Officer Thomas Glynn, served in the Eighth District and died in the line of duty in 1974.
She entered the police academy and emerged as a newly minted police officer in 1983.
“I knew it from a young age,” she recalled. “I didn’t want to be a lawyer or anything else. I always knew I wanted to be the police, and that’s all there is to it.
Unlike most police officers, she spent her entire career in one district. “It’s just where I was and just where I wanted to be. I loved being here.”
But her first day was memorable.
“When I walked into the old Eighth District Station (3515 W. 63rd St.) on my very first day, I was ready to go–carrying my briefcase, my baton, my hat. It was all spit-shine,” O’Neill recalled. “Then I went up to the desk and I said, ‘PPO Glynn, reporting for duty.’ And this big old rough, gruff desk guy looks at me and says, ‘Who gives a sh~t?’ That was my welcome to the Eighth District.
“I mean, I had not led a sheltered life, but I have to say I wasn’t expecting that,” she added with a laugh.
“And you know, he and I became the best of friends. We were buddies. You wouldn’t see one without the other. I grew up working alongside him.”
After her one-year probationary period was over, she was put to work near 47th and Cicero, fighting prostitution by working as a decoy and snagging johns on weekends with a tactical unit as a part of Operation Angel.
“I knew what Operation Angel was and what they did, but I wasn’t sure how I’d fit in,” she said. “I’m thinking, ‘What do I wear? Hey, I know this girl ain’t wearing fishnet stockings. I don’t own them!’ But [the tact unit leader] said to me, ‘Maureen, don’t worry about what to wear. You could wear a potato sack and [johns] would still stop [and solicit you].’
“I wasn’t sure if I should take that as a compliment or not,” she added with a chuckle.
After that work, O’Neill was brought inside and worked for years as a secretary to various watch commanders. Her people skills and problem-solving abilities made her a good fit for the position.
That same bright disposition and skills made her a natural to move up and work with district commanders. The fact that she worked with nine in a row is evidence of that.
“It’s not unusual for a newly appointed district commander to bring staff with him, including a secretary,” O’Neill said. “Each time I’d see a new commander, I’d be straight with him and say that I’m comfortable being his secretary, but I’m also good with returning to the watch desk. I’d be clear that it wasn’t my first rodeo.”
The ‘job of a lifetime’
“I’ve always loved this job. I bleed blue,” she added. “Police officers see the worst in some people, but we also see the best in others.”
Part of seeing the best is the result of a good attitude.
“You’ve got to treat everyone with respect, no matter who they are or what they do,” she said. “Almost nobody wakes up in the morning, thinking they’re going to be in a police station. Most of the time, they don’t want to be here. So they don’t want to be treated bad. I’ve always kept that in mind, telling myself I need to try and treat everyone like I’d want my mother to be treated if she walked into a police station.
Her capacity for empathy has served her well.
“Sometimes people call and just want to complain,” she said. “What they really want is someone to listen to them, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. You can’t just cut people off and be short. You’ve got to let them talk, because it may be that you’re the only person they’ve really spoken with in weeks.”
The kindness O’Neill has shown to so many has often come back to her.
The youngest of her three daughters—Fiona–was born with a rare medical condition that left her severely disabled, unable to walk, talk or even smile.
She was initially expected to live just two years; but today she is 24 years old and living at home with her family, which includes her sisters, Caishlin and Sela.
Police commanders O’Neill has worked for have always been understanding where Fiona is concerned, including her occasional hospital says.
“Even during the most difficult times at work, I was told, ‘Do what you have to do for Fiona. Be with your daughter. We’ll handle things on our end.’”
They also were among the first to step up and support a fundraiser for Fiona at St. Symphorosa Church.
“I don’t know where I’d be without my police family,” she said, her voice wavering slightly. “I can’t say enough good things about them.”
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