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Sheriff’s Chief Ralph DeBartolo

Ralph DeBartolo

Ralph DeBartolo

It isn’t uncommon for young boys to play cops and robbers as children, and Ralph DeBartolo was one of those boys. “I loved playing as a kid, and I always wanted to be the cop,” he says.

After serving 18 months in Korea, and two years total in the U.S. Army, DeBartolo returned home to Chicago and started to work construction. That changed when his buddy told him he had found an article in the paper announcing openings for 500 police officers. He remembered his days playing cops and robbers, and thought, “Why not?”

After taking the exam, he was at the top of the list for approval and began working for the Chicago Police Department on July 1, 1957. “I was making more money working construction than I was as a police officer at that time,” he remembers.

DeBartolo recalls his early years on the force, when there were no radios, only call boxes. “I walked the beat for the first year on the job, walked on the streets at midnight,” he says. “If I saw a crime, I had to run to a call box, put a key in it, make a call, and request help. Now it’s so modernized. Police departments have excellent equipment today.”

The event that stuck with him the most during more than three decades on the Chicago police force is the fire at Our Lady of Angels School in 1958. DeBartolo was one of the first two officers to respond to the call and helped to save many children’s lives by carrying them out of the burning building.

He also recalls being promoted to vice detective after apprehending a suspect after a high-speed chase at 3 in the morning in 1962. The man later confessed to 32 armed robberies. He was the youngest detective on the force. As a bodyguard for the director of psychiatry for 18 years, he provided security during the John Wayne Gacy case for two weeks.

Looking back on his retirement from the Chicago Police Department in 1989, he says, “I was home for about a month, and I was bored out of my mind.” That’s when he joined the Cook Country Sheriff’s Office, where he now serves as chief of the Court Services Division at the Third Municipal Courthouse in Rolling Meadows. In that capacity, he supervises 80 deputy sheriffs and is responsible for overseeing safety and security for the public, judges, court personnel and inmates.

When asked what it takes to be a good police officer and chief, he says, “You have to be dedicated to your work, make every case a priority. Make sure everything is done right. You have to leave all family issues at home and pay attention to your job and deal with every job that you get. You don’t think about what you’re going to do Saturday night when you’re on the job.”

DeBartolo’s hard work and his dedication have been awarded in many ways. In 1997, the Order Sons of Italy in America named him Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. In 2004, the Italian American Police Association bestowed Man of the Year honors upon him. And in 2010, the Illinois State Bar Association presented him with its Law Enforcement Award.

At 77 years old, DeBartolo still loves his job. “I’m very fortunate to have a position that I have enjoyed for my whole 52 years,” he says. “I tell deputies ‘when you go to work, and you love what you’re doing, it isn’t a job. It’s a position. When you go to work and you don’t like what you’re doing, that’s a job.’ I love what I’m doing and I wouldn’t change anything.”

About Mara Calvello

Mara Calvello has lived in Chicago her entire life and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. After growing up in Lisle and attending Lisle High School, she went to Elmhurst College where she received a bachelors of arts. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, going to the movies, spending time with her friends and family, traveling, and eating at the family restaurant, Tufano’s.