Page 22 - March 2021
P. 22

  Portraits by Peter Bucks
Tributes to officers from the CPD Officer, Lodge 7 member and renowned artist
‘I try to be that good person to the younger guys’
Fernando Velez want- ed to grow up to be the cool guy with the long hair and shoulder hol- ster.
As a child, Velez al- ways looked forward to when their close family friend — an iconic 1970s police offer — would come over and tell tales of what it took to be on the job.
“I looked at him and
saw kind of what he did
when he stopped by
our house when I was
younger,” says Velez,
who grew up with two
brothers and a hard-
working single moth-
er in the Taylor Street
neighborhood near the
University of Illinois at Chicago. “The neighborhood where I came from, most of the kids my age, once they graduated high school they went out and got a job. And that’s exactly what I did.”
That family friend was the only law enforcement
figure in Velez’s life. Despite a lack of role models early on, he decided to take a leap of faith and go to the academy after grad- uating from high school.
“Being a kid, it just felt like, ‘Why not?’” he explains. “I never really thought about this as what I would actually want to do, but when the opportunity came up being so young, I jumped at the chance.”
While in the academy — “the term is like high school with guns,” Velez says — he slowly began realizing his passion for law enforcement. By the time he was hired by the Chicago Police Department in 1991 only six months after turning 21, Velez was sold on the career.
“I’ve been a policeman longer than I haven’t been a police- man,” says 50-year-old Velez. “I’ve been a policeman 29 years of my life, so it’s been a big part of my life, as you can imagine.”
Throughout his nearly three decades of being a law enforce- ment officer, Velez has served two assignments. He began in the 10th District, and in 2001 he moved over to the narcotics divi- sion, where he is currently assigned to a long-term investigative team tracking the Mexican drug cartels operating in the Chi- cagoland area.
While working in the 10th District, the young officer learned early in his career that he would have to grow up quickly. He remembers walking into a domestic situa- tion at 22 years old and being expected to han- dle the situation.
“Most of the things were completely new to me to begin with,” he says. “Seeing how the older officers handled everything, it was com- pletely eye-opening. I was so young, I had so little life experience, so I feel like all of my experi- ence with [law enforce- ment] happened while I was a police officer.”
Luckily, Velez has had mentors guiding him since his first day on the job. Whether in the 10th District or a decade later in the narcotics division, he always had more senior officers whom he could approach for life advice. The fruits of that mentorship are paying off now, while Velez works at a high level tracking the sophisticated and al-
ways-changing methods of the drug cartels.
He has much more advanced knowledge than he did during
that first-ever domestic situation. And now, when Velez sees bright-eyed rookies step foot in the Department for the first time, he sees his own reflection.
“I’ve had good people that I’ve worked with the entire time,” he says. “Even today, I try to be that good person to the younger guys, hoping that they have a good attitude and then that they’ll be the same guy down the line.”
Velez will never forget the kindness he was shown in the ear- liest years of his career. Though his 16-year-old and 22-year-old children haven’t shown interest in law enforcement careers, he will always preach the core tenants of public service to them, which he learned at their age: have a good attitude, show up on time and learn how to be a team player.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with some really great, talented people over the years that have helped us be successful,” he says. “It’s truly the work of an entire group to get things done at this level. It’s not just one person saying one thing and it’s over. It’s the cooperation of your entire group, and the success is because of the entire group. I’ve been fortunate.”
Star #13216 Unit 189

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