CHICAGO — The slogan “serve and protect” is emblazoned across countless Chicago police cars. But a local man says he is doing his part to ensure officers know they’re supported.
Robert Swiderski, Jr. has spent the last three days carrying out what he called “Operation Serve and Protect,” a movement that seeks to raise awareness about a growing threat to officers in Chicago.
When a criminal takes an officer’s life, there is an avalanche of support. But when an officer takes their own life, it’s equally somber but less discussed.
“So many of our brothers and sisters in blue have carried the burden on their own,” said Swiderski, the son of a retired Chicago police officer.
Over the last three days, Swiderski has walked to all 22 police districts — a journey that spans nearly 80 miles.
It’s not his first time, however.
“That’s why I’m here at City Hall. To let our mayor and superintendent know this really does matter,” Swiderski said. “Their mental health really does matter.”
WGN profiled Swiderski in 2021 when he walked and ran around City Hall for 28 straight hours.
“What isn’t talked about is all the people dealing with depression, PTSD, with mental illness,” he said.
Since 2018, 20 Chicago police officers have taken their lives. The number is far above the national average for suicide among cops.
Swiderski said he hopes to spark conversations among cops that save lives.
“We never know,” added CPD Cmdr. Davis Harris. “Unfortunately, it could be someone standing here right now who’s got that on their mind and might be taking that step. We need to check on each other daily.”
Swiderski also delivered thank you cards to officers along the way, adding that he hopes people aren’t shy about showing their appreciation to law enforcement officials daily because you never know who could benefit from the gesture.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, resources are available 24/7 on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or by calling 988.