A Publication of WTVP

Michael McCoy is sheriff of Peoria County. He began his law enforcement career in 1970 as a member of the Beardstown Police Department. Two years later, he joined the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office as a correctional officer and then became a deputy sheriff. Later, he was assigned to the detective division and promoted to sergeant.

McCoy graduated from the FBI National Academy in 1976. In 1979, he was named Peoria Heights Chief of Police and remained in that office until 1986, when he became corporate director of security for a private industry. In 1994, McCoy returned to the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office as chief deputy and was appointed the 55th sheriff of Peoria County in 2002.

McCoy is active with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and currently serves as president of the St. Jude Midwest Affiliate Board of Directors. Over the years, he’s also been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Cancer Center for Healthy Living, Peoria Park District, Center for Prevention of Abuse, American Red Cross, and other local and national organizations.

McCoy and his wife have four children and reside in Peoria.

Tell about your background, schools attended, family, etc.

I graduated from Peoria High School in 1967. I went into the Illinois Air National Guard about a year out of high school and trained to be an X-ray technician. I was working at Graham Hospital in Beardstown when I was recruited to be the third shift police officer by the owner of an ambulance company who was on the Police and Fire Commission in Beardstown. I had some friends in Peoria who were members of both the Peoria City Police Department and the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office. I thought being a police officer would be a great idea.

I applied at both the City of Peoria and Peoria County and ended up becoming a deputy sheriff in 1972. I initially worked in the jail as a correctional officer. I then tested and was hired as a deputy sheriff, then promoted to detective, jail sergeant, and patrol sergeant. In 1976, I attended the FBI National Academy and was hired as the police chief in Peoria Heights in 1979. In 1986, I left Peoria Heights to work as corporate director of safety and security at Fleming Packaging, returning to the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office in 1994.

I’m married to Sherianne, and together we have four children and five grandchildren. Both sets of our parents are still living in Peoria.

Who or what influenced you to become a police officer?

When I was 17 years old, I ran a stop sign in front of my house and two Peoria County deputies drug me up to the front door and asked my dad, “Is this yours?” It was difficult, but these two deputies advised me they were going to take me “to raise,” and they did. I gained a lot of respect for the police over the following years and had always thought about a career in law enforcement. When the opportunity came in Beardstown, I realized that was what I was supposed to do.

As Peoria County Sheriff, what are your responsibilities?

The responsibilities of the sheriff are many. A lot of people don’t realize the scope of the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office. We’re responsible for the 648 miles of unincorporated area. We have a patrol division, run the Peoria County Jail (the only jail in Peoria County), take care of the courthouse, and serve all civil papers. The Sheriff’s Office has an authorized manpower of 214 full-time employees. We also have contracts with nine local governmental bodies for police protection and/or dispatching services. I’m fortunate to have a tremendous staff of three under-sheriffs and command people, who supervise a large group of dedicated employees.

The position of sheriff is an elected one. What political pressures do you feel in your position?

Being elected is probably the one thing I don’t completely agree with about being sheriff. Politics shouldn’t determine the quality of the individual who enforces the law of a community. However, that’s how it is, so we work with it. All politicians feel some pressure, and we certainly feel that pressure when someone wants support or a person needs some legal assistance. It isn’t easy to tell friends that there are things we can and will do, as compared to the things we can’t-and won’t-do to assist them. We try very hard to do a good job for all citizens of Peoria County. That way, we hope to earn the respect of all and let the politics fall where it may. If we do a good job, there shouldn’t be a lot of political pressure.

Peoria County recently passed its 2004 budget. What are the needs for the County Sheriff Department?

In 2004, the Peoria County Budget for the Sheriff’s Office was about $800,000 less than we requested. That makes the total for the last three years about $2.4 million less than we actually needed. We’ve reduced the patrol strength, making our response time longer, and we have fewer people working in the jail and courthouse. We really need to return these positions as soon as possible. Being able to respond to a serious call is essential to everyone’s safety, and to be able to afford adequate protection for the staff as well as prisoners in the jail is a basic service that’s mandated. Those are just the personnel needs. The old part of the jail is in dire need of repair and painting. It hasn’t been touched since it was built in 1985. The ring road around the jail is falling apart and needs resurfacing. We have a visiting area that was built for the original 240 inmates; we now average about 450 a day. There are some serious space needs that need to be addressed in the near future.

There’s been some discussion as to the cost of the county transporting mentally ill patients. Can you explain the details of that? Do you see any changes in the future?

Cost is a consideration but not the important issue. Transporting mental patients is one of my points of emphasis. Illinois Statute states it’s the duty and obligation of the sheriff in each county to transport these people. I feel this is a tremendous injustice to those patients. Police are trained to transport jumpsuited criminals in handcuffs, belly chains, and leg irons. To ask any officer, except in special instances, to take this responsibility is almost criminal. The patients deserve better treatment than most police agencies can afford to give. We aren’t trained in how to respond to an emergency with a mental patient in the back seat of a patrol unit. We don’t have the proper equipment, restraining devices, or medical training to do this job. In addition, we’re forced to take patrol deputies off the street, or force a deputy into overtime, to make these transports. Both of those instances are unacceptable. Mental patients need to be transported by qualified, trained medical people who can handle the emergency situation they’re being treated for. The legislation being proposed now will have these transports done by qualified people. Mental patients deserve this type of proper care.

How well do area police departments work with the county?

In 1980, Sheriff Shadid, now Senator Shadid, and I formed the Peoria County Association of Chiefs of Police. I was the chief of police in Peoria Heights, and we understood the need for all law enforcement administrators to communicate frequently. This organization has been the foundation for great cooperation between local police agencies. Chief Stenson of Peoria and I work together very closely-almost daily-on issues of common concern. In reality, all departments within the tri-county area communicate and assist each other whenever needed.

I also think it’s important for people to realize the close working relationship between the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office and the Peoria County States Attorney’s Office. Kevin Lyons and his staff are well-trained professionals, and we work together many times each day to see that the victims of crimes committed in Peoria County are served in the best possible manner.

Are there ways city and county departments can better work together?

I’ve been promoting the idea of investigating a combined Peoria City/Peoria County relationship for quite a while. I’m not sure if it will work in all areas, but I really believe this is something the citizens deserve to have looked into. It would seem to make a lot of sense not to duplicate services or departments. This isn’t an easy thing to accomplish, and people will have to realize the primary issue is what’s best for the Peoria community. There are many unnecessary duplications that can save a lot of money and yet increase services. They need to be reviewed and very soon.

What are the current needs of the county jail?

The Peoria County Jail has a couple of immediate needs. The “old jail,” built in 1985, has never been painted on the inside. We’ve had many conversations with State of Illinois Jail Inspectors about the condition of some of the pods. If we don’t get some money set aside, and very soon, we’ll be forced by the State of Illinois to empty some pods while we work on refurbishing them. We need to expand the video bonding area. This allows the judges at the courthouse to see and talk with recent arrestees so we don’t have to transport them to the courthouse for a brief hearing. We need to address the entire issue of visiting. Video visiting is something other recently built jails have initiated. This is huge in that it cuts down on staff time and prisoner movement within the jail. Visiting can then be done on an ongoing basis, and when scheduled properly, the opportunity for more visits per inmate will be available.

What changes have there been in routines for the sheriff’s department since September 11?

The changes at the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office since September 11 have been subtle. We discuss our businesses daily at Roll Call, and we’ve worked closely with all these major entities in Peoria County to ensure we have a basic plan in place in case of an emergency. Most of this type of work had already been done, in cooperation with many other agencies, because of our interest in preparing for any type of disaster. We now realize terrorists can be from anywhere, including Peoria. I believe we all listen more when dealing with the public, and we respond to more calls from citizens with concerns that could involve terrorist activity. Citizens are paying attention and forwarding information to us at a far greater rate than we ever expected.

What are the nature of the majority of calls received by the sheriff’s department?

The majority of our calls are calls for service to help people: domestic violence, people that are hurt and need assistance, traffic accidents, and problems in a business. One thing some people don’t realize is that just because Peoria County is largely rural, our deputies handle calls just like every other department. Our main concern is that we’re sending deputies to calls when their “backup” is sometimes many miles away. We have 465 square miles, and that’s a lot of territory to cover. We strive for and talk about safety every shift of every day.

How has the role of a law enforced changed in the past 20 years?

The role of the police officer has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Police are now trained in things like racial profiling, psychology, verbal judo, juvenile law, and so much more. The recent decisions of some courts have placed a real educational curve on the police. Traffic stops, requests for identification, vehicle searches, and interrogation are now strictly regulated. Law enforcement is continually training. The attitude of some members of the public toward the police has changed-in particular toward the juveniles. Twenty years ago, parents were excited that the police would assist in helping their young men and women “grow up.” Today, it’s a “keep your hands off and don’t talk to my kid” attitude. We need to re-educate parents to take responsibility for their children, and then accept the consequences if their children don’t listen. Education is the key.

You’ve won several awards for your volunteer work. What’s your philosophy of volunteering? How do you choose which organizations you support?

I really believe we all should give back to the community-and especially to the youth. I’ve been involved with St. Jude for more than 25 years. I believe you should give your time, effort, and dollars to organizations that use the minimum amount of contributions for administrative costs, while offering great results. St. Jude does that. In addition to being a world-class hospital-and one that doesn’t allow financial hardships on patient families-they’re a research hospital. Patients that are treated at St. Jude, in both Memphis and Peoria, realize their treatment will be shared with many others-at no cost. St. Jude does patent their drugs and treatments, but unlike most institutions, they don’t charge others for their use. The idea of treating kids with catastrophic diseases, without charge, and then sharing the results with all other medical institutions, is one that I embrace.

There are many great charities in the Peoria area. Peoria is a very benevolent community, and this is evident with all of the new medical growth coming our way. I think we support those charities that demonstrate, openly, the good they do.

You began the St. Jude Runs and are still involved with that. How did that event come about and how has it grown over the years?

In 1980, Gene Pratt and I were doing some running event to benefit St. Jude, and the idea of running from Peoria to Memphis and back came up. We soon realized this was a really stupid idea, so we settled for driving to Memphis and running back to Peoria, arriving at the St. Jude Telethon. The first year, 1982, we put an ad in the paper, and 19 people responded to the challenge. We raised $22,500 in 1982, with 22 of us participating. In 2003, the 22nd Annual St. Jude Memphis to Peoria Run and the 15 other auxiliary Runs we’ve started raised $1,260,000. That brought the 22-year Run total to $8,990,000. We’re very proud of that. We’re also proud that our contributions have helped the hospital do great things. At St. Jude, in 1982, just over an average of 8 percent of the kids being treated for cancer were living. Today, the average is over 85 percent. That’s why St. Jude is my favorite charity.

Are there any misperceptions of the role of the county sheriff?

I don’t know if there are many misperceptions of the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office. I do believe a lot of people don’t realize the scope of what our office does: patrol, jail, courthouse, civil process, 215 employees, a $14 million budget, and 465 square miles all coordinated in making Peoria County a safe community.

How can businesses support their county sheriff’s department?

Businesses can best support the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office by doing just that-offering support. Even though people aren’t thrilled with some of things we do, we do them because of what the law dictates or to assist others. Businesses should realize the sheriff’s office is also a business. We need funds to operate, and we need to be held accountable on how we operate our business. But those expectations must be valid. Supporting ways of obtaining revenue that will be used wisely is important. Working with us to make Peoria County safe and secure is the most important. IBI