Michael Sullivan’s Full May Story

Balancing Life and an assignment to ICAC

My work in ICAC was some of the most rewarding work I have ever done.  It was not until I left ICAC that I realized how much of my life I had given up so I could do the work.  Prior to working in ICAC I was a patrol officer, field training officer, worked undercover in narcotics and as a detective.  During all those assignments I could always find time to make it to my children’s school activities, their sporting events and play on a softball and hockey team.  I would exercise on a regular basis and run in five and ten k races.

Then came my assignment to ICAC and little by little my time was taken over by the work.  First the softball stopped.  My children had grown and their activities now centered around their friends and they required, or I should say wanted, less mom and dad participation.  When I was promoted and made the commander of an ICAC task force the participation on the hockey team stopped. My running decreased to a few times a month and maybe a race or two a year.

After almost ten years as the commander I found my doctor telling me I might need to go on blood pressure medication.  Throughout my life I had routinely donated blood.  Most of the time I would be asked to run up and down the stairs a few times because my blood pressure was so low. My lack of exercise, sitting at a computer for a large part of my duties, poor sleeping habits and the stress of being an ICAC commander had pushed my blood pressure into the red zone.

I retired from being the ICAC commander but went on to have another full time position teaching for a couple of universities and the ICAC program.  I went back to running and sleeping seven or even eight hours a night.  My next visit to the doctor revealed that my blood pressure had dropped back to a little on the low side.  It was not the full time work that was the issue, it was all the other bad habits that went along with the full time ICAC work.

As an instructor for some of the ICAC training classes I started to take an informal poll of my students.  I would ask about their mix of work and outside activities.  How many hours of sleep they would get each night?  The results mirrored my own life’s experience.

When I asked about outside activities, and to be specific, activities they would be doing for themselves, not scouting or coaching soccer for their children.  But an activity they did for themselves, such as I had done with running, softball and hockey.  I learned that about eighty percent of ICAC personnel with less than one year in ICAC still had outside activities.  The percentage dropped to fifty percent for ICAC personnel with between one to three years.  For personnel with three or more years of ICAC the number dropped to twenty-five percent.

Then I started asking about sleeping patterns.  What I learned was the average number for an overwhelming amount of the ICAC personnel was between four and a half and five hours of sleep each night.  This really stood out to me as I remember during my time as a commander my average amount of sleep was four and a half hours.  It made me wonder how many of my fellow ICAC workers were facing the same health issues I had confronted.

If you see yourself in the descriptions above, take solace in knowing you can turn it around.  Start taking your life back.  Find an activity to do just for yourself.  Make regular exercise part of your weekly routine.  Try to get at least seven hours of sleep a night and if possible eight hours.

When I was a rookie and my field training officer finally let me drive the car. I remember my first code three response.  I turned on the lights, siren and stomped on the accelerator.  My FTO yelled SLOW DOWN.  He then went on to explain.  We were responding to a call for assistance from another officer. We were selected by dispatch because we were the closest unit to the officers’ location.  If we crashed on the way to render assistance, then another officer who was father away would have to respond.  The net result is the officer needing assistance would have to be in jeopardy longer because we fail to take care of ourselves as we responded to the call.

As an ICAC commander I recognized this same harmful behavior.  The warning sign was not the speed but the words spoken by an investigator.   Those words were “If I don’t do this, no one else will, and this child will be harmed.”  This statement screams of tuning out everything else in their life and only seeing ICAC. You are not the only one working to protect this child, you have approximately three thousand brother and sister officers working ICAC assignments with you.

It typically takes between six months and a year to fully train a new ICAC investigator.  It takes time to   become familiar with the digital world and gain the interviewing skills necessary for these victims and offenders.  If you allow the work to overwhelm you, it will take another six months to a year for your replacement to be up and running.  The net result being the children will be at risk longer. So as my very wise field training officer said SLOW DOWN.  Make sure you are taking care of yourself so you can be there to take care of the children.

Retired Deputy Chief Michael Sullivan


Retired Deputy Chief Sullivan is a thirty-six-year veteran of law enforcement, who served as the Deputy Chief of the Investigations Division for the Illinois Attorney General’s Office as the ICAC Task Force Commander. He has been a member of the ICAC Advisory Board, and the Co-Chair of the ICAC Emerging Technology Group. Deputy Chief Sullivan has also been a member of the teaching faculty at North East Multi-Regional Training, the College of DuPage, the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy, and the Fox Valley Technical College/OJJDP  

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