Dedication leads Palos Park detective to SWAT award

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Palos Park Police Detective Barry Churin looks at his 2012 Swat Operator of The Year Award at the Palos Park Police Station in Palos Park, Illinois, Monday, January 14, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

Palos Park Police Detective Barry Churin admits he’s a man of few words.

“Normally, I don’t talk much at all,” Churin said.

But his 20 years of service to south suburban communities says something impressive.

Churin, 50, recently was named the 2012 SWAT Operator of the Year for the South Suburban Emergency Response Team (SSERT), a multijurisdictional tactical team that responds to situations with a high risk for violence.

“To me that’s huge, because I work with a great bunch of guys,” Churin said of the award.

Churin said being the Palos Park Police Department representative to SSERT for the last nine years has not only been an honor but the realization of a personal goal.

“The highlight of my career is the fact that I’m on one of the busiest part-time SWAT teams in the country. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do, be a part of a tactical team,” Churin said.

It’s especially meaningful, he said, because he “never thought I’d be able to do this.”

As a teenager in Alsip, Churin’s goal was to become a police officer, following in the footsteps of relatives in the Chicago Police Department.

Churin thought his first step toward that career was to enlist in the Army during his senior year in high school. He hoped to become a helicopter pilot, but his vision did not meet the flight standards.

Disappointed, Churin planned to try the Marine Corps after graduation from Eisenhower High School, but an accident caused by a drunken driver left him with a fractured back.

“The military wouldn’t look at me now,” Churin said he thought at the time.

He said he didn’t even consider pursuing a career in law enforcement after his yearlong recovery, believing his injuries would prevent him from acceptance there, too.

Instead, he took a job as a truck driver for about 10 years until a friend in law enforcement told Churin there was still a chance he could become a police officer.

Churin never looked back. By 1991, he was working with the Blue Island Police Department, and he joined the Palos Heights Police Department later that year.

In 1998, Churin became a Palos Park police officer and worked concurrently with both departments until 2001.

From the start of his police career, Churin took advantage of every opportunity to let his actions define his service to the community. In 1991, for instance, he and a fellow officer responded to a car submerged in a forest preserve lake. Churin said as he watched a Palos Fire Protection District diving team assist at the scene, he decided to “find out more about it.”

Churin later joined a dive-and-rescue team for a group of 11 community fire agencies that share resources, and he has been assisting with dive-and-rescue operations for the last 20 years.

As a team leader of the SSERT SWAT team, Churin responded to an Oak Lawn bank robbery in 2012, clearing the complex around the bank. He also assisted with a barricaded hostage situation in Glenwood several years ago.

Churin’s service is not always local: He was part of the first wave of police officers who went to New Orleans in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, spending more than two weeks assisting rescue efforts in a variety of capacities.

Churin said the hardest part of his job is “dealing with all the bad stuff in the world.” But it’s a job he wouldn’t trade for anything.

In his understated manner, Churin gives others credit for him being able to live his dream.

“My boss (Chief Joe Miller) and the people from Palos Park have an understanding that even though nothing bad happens here, we need to be part of a team (like SSERT) in the event that something does happen,” he said.

Churin said his good fortune extends to a “family at home that I have a great time with,” and “a great bunch of guys and girls” with whom he works.

“This is my second family. When I’m with these guys, the bonds don’t get any tighter,” Churin said. “If I don’t do anything else for the rest of my career, this is probably what I’m most proud of.”