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Tomi Methipara, join the Chicago Police


Methipara, the first NRI sergeant with Chicago Police

Chicago, October 11, 2004

Tomi Methipara, the first Indian American to join the Chicago Police and also be promoted to the rank of sergeant, does not let racial epithets flung at him get in the way of his job.

Methipara, who grew up in Kerala and worked in a bank in Alwaye in that state and in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, before immigrating to the US and joining the 14,000-strong Chicago Police in 1990, said he has had quite a few culture shocks as a new recruit.

"Initially, I was shocked at how they treated dead bodies. We (Indians) give a lot of respect to the dead. But in the police, you realise that a dead body is like a log - it has no feelings."

As a rookie, Methipara would also be upset by racial epithets flung at him when he went to investigate a crime, or make an arrest.

"Over time, you learn not to take it personally. Even back in Agra, there were people calling me a 'stupid Madrasi'. You learn to put it in perspective."

Methipara has another consolation.

"At the end of the day, I tell myself I am going home to sleep in my own bed, while these people are going to jail."

Methipara was a familiar face on Devon Ave (Chicago's Indian business district), before he was promoted sergeant and moved to the adjoining 17th district.

When he joined the Chicago Police in 1990, it was a rather non-traditional choice for an Indian, but Methipara did not deliberate much.

His entry into the police was fortuitous. "I just walked into it without adequate preparation," he recalled. He was selected after a written test, which attracted 25,000 applicants, an interview followed by a physical test, medical and psychological examinations and a background check.

In Chicago's 17th police district, Methipara is part of a 300 strong police team, which includes the district commander, 35 supervisors, three captains, four lieutenants and 50 plainclothes officers. They are all part of the tactical team that deals with gang violence and narcotics.

The computer is Methipara's link to the outside world - it gives him a minute-by-minute update of reported crimes in his jurisdiction and the status of the cases his men are investigating.

Methipara has become quite an expert on the investigation methods of the police force.

"There are a number of factors that help us identify such criminals," he says.

"Spent casings from a gun give precise information like a human fingerprint. Cigarette butts and DNA testing can narrow down the list of suspects. The offender's crime record provides clues."

Discussing the kinds of problems that crop up on busy days, he says: "On some days, the chatter (over the police radio) is incessant. When the weather is nice, there are a lot of problems. Some people go haywire with alcohol and partying. Some days it is crazy. The police gets a call for the silliest reasons - even if someone is yawning too much"

As sergeant, Methipara has to keep tabs on his men. "I have to know what each officer is doing at any given time."

Methipara always wears a bullet-proof vest. "In the summer months, it is a bit of a bother," he says, "but you get used to it."

In his holster, Methipara carries a semi-automatic weapon. "It is double action and does not fire by accident," he explains.

In his years as a police officer, Methipara has drawn his gun, but never fired it. "It is a last resort, you use it only when all your options are gone."

Every shooting leads to an elaborate investigation.

"Within two hours of a police shooting, there is a round table conference. The officer better have a good reason for shooting. If not, he or she is in big trouble."

Methipara also carries the non-lethal TASER gun, which only supervisors are allowed to carry. The TASER releases an electric shock of 50,000 volts that causes muscle dysfunction, temporarily incapacitating a person.