PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Husband, father, Afro-Latino, Puerto Rican, and Peoria’s Chief of Police. Those are some of the words that describe Eric Echevarria, but those weren’t always the words he would’ve used.
“Growing up, I didn’t want to be a police officer. There was never the idea of being a police officer. I didn’t see anybody that looked like me in a police department,” said Echevarria.
He wanted to be an architect at a young age, but that changed when he joined the military. “After the Marine Corps is when I had some friends of mine, one of them who is Puerto Rican, who still is at the police department where I came from, says ‘hey, you should take our test,’ and that’s where the story started.”
Coming from a strong, and proud family, his parents taught him respect was one of the most important things. He shared that his father said to wear a suit at the airport because your looks emanate respect. Aside from the pride his family has in him, family is always at the forefront.
“Hechar la bendicion. He would say it specifically, ‘Give me your blessing.’ Not just the word bendicion, and my grandfather would say to him, ‘Dios te bendiga, y la virgen,’ so god bless you and a virgin because they were Catholic.”
Echevarria also explained how his father owned rental properties. He said his dad would always leave a vacant unit available for somebody who needed it. “But it was never vacant, there was always somebody that would live there for free.”
Culture and religion, two things of importance in his life, allow him to take his job as the Peoria Police Chief to the next level.
“Being Puerto Rican, I understand the other culture, right? I understand culture, I understand other people. And I think people can relate to that, as well.”
One thing he unfortunately can relate to is the discrimination minorities face every day. “Go back to your country… you should be mowing my lawn, you speak very good English,” those are only a handful of things that have been said to the Chief. But with discrimination comes strength, which is something he taught his kids at a young age.
“That led me into a life that I have, where I was not going to walk around as a victim or feel victimized, and I would teach this to my kids,” said Echevarria. “We move on, we’re not going to sit there and pout about it and cry about it, we move on because we know what we are and what our value is.”
With all the situations he’s dealt with, it allows him to connect with the community. That’s what’s brought other employees to the police station, as well.
Jennie Urquiza-Whitiker, the Grants Coordinator for the Peoria Police Department, said, “He told me about his vision of what he wanted to do here. I’m the type of person that I need to believe in something to really work hard at it, and I need to believe in a leader.” She said he’s not just a man who walks the walk, but he talks the talk.
“He’s here, he’s present, and I think that’s the biggest thing… You see him at all the events, he’s never too big to be approachable,” said Urquiza-Whitiker.
Urquiza-Whitiker, a Mexican and Welsh mix, has moved around a lot, from living in Colorado, Illinois, and most recently, Arizona. The chief, she said quite frankly, is what brought her to Peoria.
“He makes me want to do better, he makes me want to give more, because I see that he does it, and I see that I’m not doing this in fruition, I’m really making an impact,” said Urquiza-Whitiker.
Impacting his coworkers, his family, the community, and the youth, he shares it’s important for young Latinos to find their passion.
“Find what you want to do, but don’t lose the essence, that culture that we bring. Because we bring flavor to wherever we go… I’m proud to speak Spanish, I’m proud of my culture, but I’m also proud of being an American. And I’m proud that I served my country, I served this country and the United States Marine Corps., and I continue to serve as a law enforcement professional.”
Although he doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon, he said he’s looking forward to resting, as long as he leaves Peoria better than the way he found it.