Former Philly cop, now Upper Darby chief, offers nuanced take on halting gun violence

Listen 14:14
Upper Darby Police Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Upper Darby Police Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Michael Chitwood joined the Philadelphia Police Department in 1964. That’s more than half a century in law enforcement.

So when Chitwood. who now leads Upper Darby police, floated the idea of arming some teachers in township schools following the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, people took notice — though they didn’t necessarily agree.

The school board in the Delaware County community unanimously voted down the recommendation, and the mayor said he wouldn’t support it.

“Which is fine,” says Chitwood. “I mean I’m thinking outside the box. I’m thinking about protecting our children. Period.”

As a young cop in the ’70s, Chitwood recalls the incident that prompted him to go unarmed on the beat.

“We were on a drug raid,” recalls Chitwood. “And during the course of the raid, the drug dealer started shooting through the door and shot my partner in the chest. He fell down, we were maybe two blocks away from Temple Hospital up in North Philadelphia. And a gun battle ensued. Eventually, I was able to knock the door down and myself and the gunman got engaged in gunfire. And I had told him to come out of the doorway that he was hiding behind and that he could throw his gun out and come out.

“And I had in my mind that, as soon as he came out the door, I was going to shoot him.”

But something stopped Chitwood from shooting. Something he never expected to see.

“He came out with a baby in his arms. An infant, 6-month-old baby. And it was covering from his neck to his chest. and he had the baby in his arms. Thank God I didn’t fire because, if I had fired, I probably would have killed the baby. And that scared me because in that one split second, I could have killed that baby.”

He refused to carry a gun — until the chief found out and made him wear his sidearm.

Chitwood says the NRA has stonewalled possible solutions to rampant gun violence.

“I’m not against the NRA, but I’m not for the NRA,” he said. “I mean, I think that they’re going to self-implode because the mood of the country today is for some type of gun control.”

Click on the player above to listen to Chitwood speak with NewsWorks Tonight host Dave Heller about his ideas for school safety and the larger gun debate.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal