Marlin picks 24-year vet to be Urbana’s first female police chief

Photo by: Heather Coit/The News-Gazette, Urbana interim police Chief Sylvia Morgan presents Sgt. Matt Bain with the 2016 John E. Lockard Officer of the Year award on April 27 at the Urbana City Building. Mayor Diane Marlin has nominated Morgan to drop the interim from her title and become the city's first female police chief.

URBANA — Growing up on a farm in Kansas, Sylvia Morgan didn’t set out to make history. She just wanted to help people.

The 48-year-old career law-enforcement officer has been chosen by Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin to become the city’s police chief. It’s expected the city council will approve Marlin’s nominee Monday and make Morgan the 31st police chief since Urbana formed a police department in 1903. Prior to that, the city annually appointed a marshal going back to 1855.


Morgan will be the department’s first female leader. “I am proud. This is a male-dominated field. Being a female chief is a rarity across the United States. That’s not what I set out to do. I just wanted to help people, and that’s why I became a police officer,” she said.

Morgan has performed just about every officer job that can be done within the department since being hired 24 years ago this month. She has been interim police chief since Pat Connolly abruptly resigned in mid-April, citing the need to be with his family.

For the last five years, she has been deputy chief of police. For 19 years before that, she was a patrol officer, detective, patrol sergeant, member of the department’s street crimes unit and member of an interagency task force doing undercover drug investigations.

In addition to her undergraduate degree in criminology from Wichita State University, Morgan also attended the FBI National Academy in 2015. The venerable institution is widely regarded as a sort of graduate school for law enforcement leaders. She has also taught at the University of Illinois Police Training Institute.

“She has broad-based experience within the department,” said Marlin, adding that Morgan and Bryant Seraphin, her choice for deputy chief, “complement each other really well in terms of experience.” “She’s very direct and straightforward. That’s a good thing. What you see is what you get. That’s very important within the department and in interacting with the public.”

Morgan will be eligible for retirement in August 2018 and said she made it clear to the new mayor that she wants to be out the door some time soon after that, although she has not picked a date. “I told the mayor I would stay as long as she needed me to,” Morgan said. A grateful Marlin said the whole city is in transition and called Morgan’s leadership “critical at this time.”

“She has great support from her department, an excellent relationship with the community and she’s essentially run the department for the last five years as deputy chief. As far as stability for the department and getting us through this transitional period in the city, this was the best choice,” said Marlin, who is in only her second month at the helm of the city.

Morgan said that while she’s grateful for the official promotion to chief, it “feels like a natural progression to me.” There will be no need for introductions at the next police chiefs meeting as Morgan has worked her whole career with and around Sheriff Dan Walsh and Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb, both former Urbana cops; UI Police Chief Jeff Christensen; and newly-selected Rantoul Police Chief Tony Brown.

As deputy chief, she has played a major role in helping to shape the current command structure. “For the most part, it will be a seamless transition. Most people in the department know me well, and they know what to expect from me,” she said.

Morgan said she has been busy since Connolly left two months ago, making promotions and doing testing for sergeants. The department also recently added two new officers to its ranks, bringing the sworn staff to 57. The civilian staff numbers 14. Morgan has lived in Mahomet for about 20 years and is the mother of two children, one in college and another in high school.

In her position as chief, she is expected to earn $147,091 annually.

Source : Mary Schenk/The News-Gazette