Matt Rodriguez, a high-performing student who quickly rose through the ranks of the Chicago Police Department before becoming the first Latino superintendent, has died.
Chicago police announced Rodriguez’s death at age 87 Wednesday evening on the social media site formerly known as Twitter.
In 1992, Rodriguez became the first Latino superintendent in city history, beating out 41 others who applied. A deputy superintendent at the time, Rodriguez had been a finalist for superintendent twice before.
“He was a respected leader who cared deeply for the people of Chicago, and the brave men and women of CPD,” the statement read. A cause of death wasn’t disclosed.
“Superintendent Rodriguez began his career as a Chicago police officer in 1959 and worked his way up through the ranks,” interim police Superintendent Fred Waller said in a departmentwide memo obtained by the Tribune.
“He was a respected leader who cared deeply for the people of Chicago, and the brave men and women of this department. His legacy remains woven into the fabric of CPD and will forever remain there.”
Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office also released a statement lauding Rodriguez as a “history maker” and his role as a “pioneer in the field of community policing. He led the department during a critical period, earning the respect of the brave rank-and-file men and women serving in communities throughout the city.”
But the affable, careful officer was forced to resign from the department in fall 1997 following a Tribune article that said the city’s top cop had apparently violated police Rule 47, a rarely used rule prohibiting officers from fraternizing with criminals.
At issue was his 30-year friendship with convicted felon Frank Milito, a restaurateur with reputed connections to the Chicago Outfit, who had been linked with the slaying of an Amoco executive.
His decision to retire after a 38-year career came during of calamitous year within the department that included anger from rank-and-file officers for decisions to demote a commander for approving a memo that was offensive to Hispanics and for seeking the firing of Northwest Side officers accused of beating of Jeremiah Mearday, whose assault at the hands of officers roiled the department. Just before his announcement, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 gave Rodriguez a no-confidence vote.
It had been one of the only bumps in a long police career and his humble beginnings on the South Side. A 2000 Tribune article described how a younger Rodriguez — the son of a Mexican American grocer and Polish American precinct captain — took a streetcar every morning from the Back of the Yards neighborhood to Holy Trinity High School on Division Street, where he graduated fifth in his class.
After joining the department in 1959, Rodriguez rose through the organized crime, gambling and youth divisions. In fact, it was in the gambling unit, where he spent a decade, that he caught the eye of future Superintendent Richard Brzeczek, who in 1973 made Rodriguez his supervising sergeant. Despite leaving the department under a cloud, Rodriguez was never accused of any wrongdoing.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley praised his hire to replace Leroy Martin. “Matt Rodriguez has the skills, knowledge and experience needed to elevate the Chicago Police Department to a new level of efficiency and effectiveness,’’ Daley told reporters at the time.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.
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