CHICAGO — The head of the FBI’s Chicago Field Office has announced his retirement.
Emmerson Buie, a Chicago native and the first Black man to ever lead the Chicago office, is stepping away after three years in the high-profile job.
Buie was the leader of an office of 1,100 people that oversees investigations into corruption, terrorism and everything in between.
The 56-year-old never thought he’d break a barrier at the nation’s foremost law enforcement agency, but as the first African American to lead the FBI’s Chicago division, he knew he had an extra responsibility.
“It was never my intention to make history,” he said. “One of my major goals was to make sure everyone had access, and everyone had a voice.”
He said in his three-year tenure, he sought to make the FBI responsive to community concerns.
Buie was born in Chicago and raised in Englewood.
“It allowed me to being a very acute understanding of the city —the makeup, the city the dynamics,” he said.
He played high school football – a sport he credits with instilling the values of discipline, drive, tenacity and teamwork. But he said academics were just as important as athletics in shaping his character.
“It was kind of two sides of a coin,” he said. “Played high school football, was the captain of the football team, but before that I was captain of the math team. The two dynamics don’t usually go together. They teach you how to be deliberate, teaches you how to strategize, how to be tenacious in going after things, to stay focused – and those things need to add up.”
He graduated from Lindblom High School, Western Illinois University and then served in the U.S. Army during Operation Desert Storm.
“In crisis situations, the same thing applies, you have to spin down when everyone else is spinning up,” he said.
He said he found his calling when he joined the FBI in 1992. He would spend 30 years with the agency serving in in Colorado Springs, Washington D.C., Springfield, London, El Paso and Chicago — focusing on national cybersecurity, counterterrorism and corruption.
“The Chicago division has a history of doing very good public corruption work,” he said.
Buie supervised some of the biggest political corruption investigations in recent memory – from the case against former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan to the indictment of Chicago’s longest serving alderman Ed Burke.
“You learn to look for certain things,” he said. “You learn how to clear the path and give the investigators and prosecutors the support they need to move forward and be successful.”
The Chicago division has also played a key role in the sprawling investigation into the January 6 attack on the capitol.
“That particular event affected the entire country, not just visually but emotionally,” Buie said. “There are individuals from that event who are all over the country, so those investigations are moving forward.”
He also grappled with the on-going issue of violent crime.
“I have family members – my mother – lives in the city, and it is so rampant that anyone can be a victim at any time,” he said. “So we all walk around with the same concern. That being said, it’s not just an issue where you can arrest your way out of it.”
And Buie leaves having overseen the investigation into the Highland Park mass shooting, the lastest in an unending line of horrific mass killings.
“It’s hard to track. It’s hard to identify because we have freedoms, rights,” he said. “It’s going to require everyone to play their part – brother, sister, mother aunt, friend — (if they see) loved ones acting out, require them to have courage to come forward to say something.”
The director of the FBI has not yet named his successor in Chicago, but Buie has some advice for whomever assumes the role.
“The person who succeeds me should rely on their abilities, focus on what they do best and pray that they can learn the rest,” he said.
Buie said he’ll take a week or two off and that his next chapter will determine where he settles. But he’ll always call Chicago home. He said it will be nice not to walk around with three phones – on call at all hours.