‘Now is the time’: Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman reflects on retirement

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AURORA, Ill. —  Thirty years since she walked into the Aurora Police Department, Chief Kristen Ziman is saying goodbye. 

Ziman’s retirement from the department, announced to the public online in June, is effective August 6, 2021.

Ziman, an Aurora native and 1991 graduate of Aurora West High School, knew from an early age that she wanted a career in law enforcement.

“Walking in as a young police officer– a young police cadet– there were no females at the rank of sergeant, even,” Ziman recalled during a recent interview with WGN-TV.

After a few years on patrol, Ziman was promoted to Sergeant. She later became APD’s first female to hold the rank of Lieutenant and Commander before being selected as the department’s first female chief in 2016.

“I never once imagined that I would be sitting in this chair,” she said. “If you would have told me that in that moment (that I began in 1991), I would have laughed at you.”

Even as chief, Ziman was a relative unknown, beyond the borders of Aurora, Illinois’ second-largest city. That changed in February 2019, in the wake of a mass shooting at the Henry Pratt Company. A disgruntled employee shot and killed five other employees during a meeting. Six others, including five Aurora Police officers, were injured in the hour’s long stand-off that ensued.

“I could have lost officers that day, but by the grace of God, we didn’t. Still, five people perished who did nothing more than come to work,” Ziman said.

In the days after the shooting, investigators found the gunman had a revoked Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card but a notification loophole meant that the man never was forced to give up his weapons. It led to a state law change that closed loopholes and provided funding for state police and other departments to better coordinate firearm revocation for individuals deemed to be a threat to others or themselves.

Her actions in the days and weeks after the shooting propelled her profile.  Ziman was one of three finalists to be Chicago’s new Superintendent of Police, as well as a finalist for the chief’s job in Nashville, Tennessee.  She also interviewed with Ft. Lauderdale, Florida police.

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Ziman says she’s thought about retirement for a few years—about when would be a good time. 

“I knew that this was the year. 2021 was going to be the year,” she says, citing a calm moment in the city, after a year of turmoil from the COVID-19 pandemic and protests, looting, and rioting across the country after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“Just as we were getting the hang of policing during a pandemic, George Floyd was murdered and it was civil unrest and I couldn’t even think about walking away from my police department in the middle of a crisis,” said Ziman.

“There was a moment — I was talking to my deputy chief and he said, ‘Why not now? Things are calm,’ and it was kind of like that. He planted the seed and now is the time.”

Ziman says she leaves the department in good hands, with longtime and trust deputy Keith Cross, who will serve as Aurora’s next Chief of Police.

For now, Ziman says she will take a few months to relax, with an eye to help other departments as a consultant in the future.

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