Chiterature

Posted: December 12, 2013

WHEN PHILLY author Harold Gullan decided to write a book about the storied career of Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood, he didn't have to go far for research material.

Chitwood, known for his penchant for the press, loaned Gullan 40 boxes of news clippings about himself that he's saved over his 49-year career in law enforcement.

For a year, the two met every other week at Llanerch Diner in Upper Darby to talk. Each time, Chitwood brought more boxes for Gullan to sift through.

"He's collected every story that's ever been written about him," Gullan said.

Now, many of those stories are collected in Gullan's book, Tough Cop: Mike Chitwood vs. the "Scumbags." Gullan and Chitwood will sign copies of the book from noon to 2 p.m. tomorrow at the Rittenhouse Square Barnes & Noble, 18th and Walnut streets.

Labor leader John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty just bought 1,200 copies to be handed out at the Pennsylvania Society's annual dinner this weekend in New York.

"He's legitimately one of the good guys in a world full of bad guys," Dougherty said of Chitwood. "He's loaded with police smarts and street smarts."

Gullan, 82, of Mount Airy, who has authored eight other books on sports and politics, wanted to branch out and write about a prominent Philadelphian, so he asked his son for a list of candidates. Chitwood was on the list.

It wasn't the first time someone had approached "Media Mike" about doing his biography, but it was the right time, Chitwood said. However, he had a caveat:

"I told him it's not going to be a tell-all," Chitwood said. "I told him if it was a tell-all I'd have to move to a Third World country and I ain't doing that."

The book traces Chitwood's trajectory from decorated Philadelphia homicide detective to a black sheep among the department to a renowned hostage negotiator and, finally, to his current role as outspoken police chief.

It traces what Chitwood said was "the darkest part in my career," when a Pulitzer Prize-winning series in the Inquirer in the 1970s accused him of police brutality.

But it also details how Chitwood rose from those ashes. He became police chief of Middletown Township, Bucks County, then spent 17 years as the chief in Portland, Maine, before becoming Upper Darby's chief in 2005.

Gullan makes no bones about the fact that he goes easy on Chitwood. At one point in the book and probably for the first time in history, Gullan even likens Chitwood to Mother Teresa.

"I wish I could say I'm trying to be balanced but if critics say it's a fluff piece, I will have to say I'm guilty," he said. "The more I see of him the more impressed I am."

That's not to say readers aren't treated to some great little-known stories about Chitwood, like what happened when he tugged too hard on the bra strap of a well-endowed classmate; why he pissed off the FBI so much that they threatened to arrest him; and how he once impersonated a newspaper reporter to negotiate a hostage situation.

Another little-known fact: Chitwood's middle name is Jude.

"My mom was very religious and apparently she went through a horrible pregnancy with me, and St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes," Chitwood said.

For all the stories Chitwood tells, it's the ones he doesn't hold news conferences on, like the story of Eugene Williams, that shed light on the man behind the persona.

Williams was a drug dealer whom Chitwood arrested five times in Philly. He eventually turned his life around, and Chitwood has spoken to him every year over the last few decades. Two weeks ago, Williams called Chitwood to say he was dying of cancer and to thank him for helping him become a success in life.

"Is that how I want to be remembered?" Chitwood said. "Yeah, that's how I want to be remembered."

But don't get any ideas that Chitwood is a modest man. If Tough Cop is ever made into a movie, Chitwood knows just who should play him.

"Me," he said. "I could play me better than anybody."


On Twitter: @FarFarrAway

Online: ph.ly/crime

Blog: ph.ly/Delco

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