Michael Kuruvilla, who has served as Brookfield deputy police chief since September 2019, has been selected by Brookfield Village Manager Timothy Wiberg to be the village’s new police chief.
A 15-year veteran of the force, the 38-year-old Kuruvilla takes over from Chief Edward Petrak on July 12. He was the only candidate interviewed for the job and had been recommended by Petrak for the post.
“He has all the skills and knowledge to be chief,” said Petrak, 54, who has been chief since April 2019 and is retiring after serving as a Brookfield police officer for 31 years. “Fifteen years is plenty of experience to run a department. He’s been successful at every level. He’s ready for it.”
The son of Indian immigrants with a master’s degree in social work, Kuruvilla is the first person of color to ascend to the rank of police chief in Brookfield.
“Coming into this, especially coming from an immigrant family, police work was not something on the radar as an option growing up,” said Kuruvilla, who earned his MSW from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2006. “I didn’t know anyone in law enforcement.”
After college, Kuruvilla first worked as a civilian crisis worker with the Brookfield Police Department before becoming a cop.
“I came here and wanted to do my best and go as far as I could, but I didn’t make the assumption that this was going to be my role,” Kuruvilla said. “But seeing where law enforcement and the Brookfield Police Department is headed, I quickly found that my passion for the work has grown over the years.”
That future means a change in policing philosophy, something Petrak recognized as well. In Kuruvilla, he saw someone ready to lead that kind of change, and he tasked Kuruvilla with mentoring officers in crisis training.
“His background in mental health has been so important, so helpful with us in the last five or six years,” Petrak said.
The past year has highlighted calls for reform in many industries, but the spotlight has fallen on police in the wake of several high-profile police brutality cases, including the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, something Kuruvilla does not shy away from.
“Of course, racial equality, diversity and inclusiveness are important, and we want to make sure we’re providing fair, equitable service,” Kuruvilla said. “But there’s a need for us to address more than just crime, and we’re being asked to widen our reach and services, and a lot of that has to do with the mental health component.
“Part of that service is asking, ‘Why do people do the things we do?’ … Every act is not going to be repaired by incarceration. If it’s appropriate, we can address it in another capacity.
“This isn’t something I brought to the department, but what I’ve brought here is a higher level of awareness, understanding and knowledge.”
Kuruvilla said being a person of color is an undeniable aspect of his role as a police officer, something that informs his approach to policing.
“The plight of the African-American community versus the Indian-American community is not the same, but I can sympathize with what other minorities are faced with,” said Kuruvilla.
In addition to the department’s emphasis on strengthening its mental health response training, Kuruvilla has led the department’s body camera initiative, a program that is expected to be fully implemented later this year.
He had hoped for it to be implemented quicker – most of the equipment has already been delivered — but a rush of departments throughout Illinois seeking to implement body camera programs has made it more difficult to coordinate onboarding and training with the vendor.
Last fall, the International Association of Chiefs of Police named Kuruvilla one of its 40 Under 40 winners as an up-and-coming leader in law enforcement. At the time, Petrak said Kuruvilla’s “strong and progressive attitude is infectious and makes him a strong, naturally suited leader.”
When he was named deputy police chief in 2019, Kuruvilla was one of three internal candidates for the job. When it came to the top job, however, Kuruvilla did not face any internal competition.
Instead, all three lieutenants who would have been natural candidates for chief not only decided not to submit their names, they wrote a joint letter of support to Wiberg, backing Kuruvilla for the job.
“It was humbling. I’m frankly at a loss for words at the gesture they performed for me,” Kuruvilla said. “It was not necessary, and I expected to be running against at least one or two of them. We’re all here to make the department better, and if there was a better candidate, I was OK with that.
“What I can say about them is, what a class move and it gives me such confidence as we step into the future.”
Lt. James Mihalik, who was one of those who applied for the deputy chief position in 2019, said his colleagues’ support for Kuruvilla was an easy decision.
“Mike is proactive, he’s stepping up when it’s needed, and we all believe in him as a leader,” Mihalik said. “All of us felt that way, and he has the support of the department as a whole. He’s been our next and up-and-coming leader and continues to do that. … Him at the helm is a good thing.”
That support from his command staff colleagues had an impact on Wiberg’s decision to hire Kuruvilla for the job.
“That was very unexpected,” Wiberg said. “The fact that [the other lieutenants] didn’t apply and unanimously voiced support for Mike was a very strong vote of confidence. He was a very strong candidate and I’m very comfortable turning over the reins to him.”