Indian American Michael Kuruvilla, a native of Kottayam, Kerala, who has served as Brookfield deputy police chief since September 2019, has been selected by Brookfield Village Manager Timothy Wiberg as the suburb’s new police chief.According to reports, Kuruvilla will be the first Malayalee American police chief in the country.
A 15-year veteran of the force, the 38-year-old Kuruvilla takes over from Chief Edward Petrak on July 12. According to Riverside-Brookfield Landmark, He was the only candidate interviewed for the job and had been recommended by Petrak for the post.
“He has all the skills and knowledge to be chief,” Petrak, 54, who has been chief since April 2019 told Riverside-Brookfield Landmark. Petrak is retiring after serving as a Brookfield police officer for 31 years. “Fifteen years is plenty of experience to run a department. He’s been successful at every level. He’s ready for it.”
The son of Indian immigrants, John and Celena Kuruvilla, with a master’s degree in social work, Kuruvilla is the first person of color to ascend to the rank of police chief in Brookfield.
“Coming into this, especially coming from an immigrant family, police work was not something on the radar as an option growing up,” Kuruvilla, who earned his MSW from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2006 told Riverside-Brookfield Landmark. “I didn’t know anyone in law enforcement.”
After college, Kuruvilla first worked as a civilian crisis worker with the Brookfield Police Department before becoming a cop. With many firsts to his credit, Kuruvilla was also the first Indian American hired by the Brookfield force and also the first officer to do crisis intervention training.
“I came here and wanted to do my best and go as far as I could, but I didn’t make the assumption that this was going to be my role,” Kuruvilla told Riverside-Brookfield Landmark. “But seeing where law enforcement and the Brookfield Police Department is headed, I quickly found that my passion for the work has grown over the years.”
Kuruvilla told Riverside-Brookfield Landmark that being a person of color is an undeniable aspect of his role as a police officer, something that informs his approach to policing, especially in the wake of several high-profile police brutality cases like George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last year.
“The plight of the African-American community versus the Indian-American community is not the same, but I can sympathize with what other minorities are faced with,” said Kuruvilla.
“Of course, racial equality, diversity, and inclusiveness are important, and we want to make sure we’re providing fair, equitable service,” Kuruvilla added.
He further told Riverside-Brookfield Landmark, “But there’s a need for us to address more than just crime, and we’re being asked to widen our reach and services, and a lot of that has to do with the mental health component. Part of that service is asking, ‘Why do people do the things we do?’ … Every act is not going to be repaired by incarceration. If it’s appropriate, we can address it in another capacity.”
“This isn’t something I brought to the department, but what I’ve brought here is a higher level of awareness, understanding, and knowledge.”
In addition to the department’s emphasis on strengthening its mental health response training, Kuruvilla has led the department’s body camera initiative, a program that is expected to be fully implemented later this year.
Last fall, the International Association of Chiefs of Police named Kuruvilla one of its 40 Under 40 winners as an up-and-coming leader in law enforcement. At the time, Petrak said Kuruvilla’s “strong and progressive attitude is infectious and makes him a strong, naturally suited leader.”
When he was named deputy police chief in 2019, Kuruvilla was one of three internal candidates for the job. When it came to the top job, however, Kuruvilla did not face any internal competition.
Instead, all three lieutenants who would have been natural candidates for chief not only decided not to submit their names, they wrote a joint letter of support to Wiberg, backing Kuruvilla for the job.
“It was humbling. I’m frankly at a loss for words at the gesture they performed for me,” Kuruvilla told Riverside-Brookfield Landmark. “It was not necessary, and I expected to be running against at least one or two of them. We’re all here to make the department better, and if there was a better candidate, I was OK with that.
Kuruvilla has also volunteered, along with his wife, Sibil, a social worker, with a nonprofit that helps women victimized by the adult entertainment industry and human trafficking.