CHICAGO — When Angel Novalez moved to Chicago as a young boy in the 1970s from Puerto Rico, he never imagined he had what it takes to become a Chicago police officer, let alone one of the department’s top brass. Now he is the first Latino to head the CPD’s Office of Community Policing.
The summer of 2020 was tumultuous between the public and Chicago police — protests, riots and looting put a huge strain on the city and restoring trust has never been more important.
Novalez is working hard to make it happen. He knows the city well from growing up here, and as a boy remembers officers in the 13th District who organized youth sports leagues and encouraged him to take up the challenge of becoming a police officer.
“They inspired me to want to do that job,” he said. “In those days I didn’t think a job like that was attainable, being Hispanic from Puerto Rico.”
Novalez now oversees the CAPS program on one side as well as the Neighborhood Policing Initiative.
Novalez said being able to speak Spanish was invaluable.
“When you’re able to speak the language, it makes people a little more comfortable,” he said. “It’s almost an instant sense of trust, not total, but a sense of trust.”
He said being bilingual helped him educate his fellow officers.
“Other officers would call me to translate, gave me an opportunity to teach them a little about the culture and some of the behaviors that make people apprehensive,” he said.
After being promoted to lieutenant, he worked in the department’s Procedural Justice Program – which teaches officers to better engage the community on a more personal level and make decisions without bias and help gain trust, which he says is now more important than ever after protests and riots over the summer in Chicago.
“It lead me on this way where community policing is the drive of what we do, everything else falls around it, we have a responsibility to protect life and property but we also have a responsibility of bringing the community on board,” he said.
He said he was humbled when promoted to commander.
In the mid 2000s, he was wounded in the line of duty but instead of quitting, he said the experience only furthered his resolve to keep serving in the Chicago Police Department. He said being a police officer is the greatest job in the world.