CHICAGO -- Police Superintendent Terry Hillard retired Friday after 35 years on the force and 5.5 years as the city's top cop, taking with him high praise for improving the Police Department's training, community relations and technology.
He also leaves behind a stubbornly high homicide rate, but he walks away on his own terms -- unlike his predecessor -- with Mayor Richard Daley calling his selection of Hillard "the best decision I made."
Asked what advice he would have for his yet-to-be-named successor, the soft-spoken Hillard, 60, pointed to his ears.
"Use these," he said. "Learn to listen and use the mouth less."
Under Hillard, video surveillance cameras were placed in dangerous neighborhoods; an Internet site was created giving residents crime information; and a computerized crime analysis system was put in place.
Hillard not only pushed for technology, he used it, too: at a press conference with Daley on Thursday, Hillard typed messages into a pager when away from the lectern.
"He brought us into the future in terms of technological advancements," said Cmdr. Dennis Rayl. "He's had a major impact on the Chicago Police Department, not only today during his tenure but probably 10 to 15 years down the road."
Hillard held regular meetings in communities and with religious leaders, said Dr. Gary Slutkin, executive director of the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention, a group that works to reduce shootings.
"What he presented was someone who could listen and really cared about what their concerns were," Slutkin said. "And if he didn't know what had happened or exactly what to do, he would be very open about this."
Despite his accomplishments, Hillard's tenure had its rocky places.
Months after he became superintendent, detectives arrested two boys, 7 and 8 years old, for the murder of 11-year-old Ryan Harris. Charges were dropped after semen was found on the body; a convicted sex offender was charged with the crime.
In 1999, two unarmed motorists were shot during separate traffic incidents. A few months later, Hillard instituted increased training for new recruits and required veteran officers to undergo at least 20 hours of training a year.
A gang unit specialist, Joseph Miedzianowski, was arrested in 2000 and accused of leading a double life as a drug kingpin.
And while the city's overall crime rate has dropped for 11 straight years, Chicago has the nation's worst murder rate among big cities.
Harriet McCullough, executive director of the law enforcement watchdog group Citizens Alert, said her group was pleased when Hillard agreed to tape confessions in murder cases, although it wanted interrogations taped too. A recent state law will now require both of all police in Illinois.
"He wasn't somebody who was going to go to the limits, in terms of the limits we'd like," she said. "Terry did a good job. We just wanted more."
Born in Fulton, Tenn., Hillard served as a Marine for 13 months in Vietnam and was awarded four medals and a citation.
He entered the police academy in 1968 and was later assigned to the gang crimes unit as a specialist.
Hillard became the first black chief of detectives in 1995 and held that position until he became superintendent in a surprise choice by Daley. He beat out then First Deputy Superintendent Charles Ramsey, who is now police chief in Washington, D.C.
Hillard replaced Matt Rodriguez, who stepped down in 1997 after months of controversy over alleged police brutality, corruption and department policies, capped by news that he had violated a police rule by having a friendship with a convicted felon.
Asked what he intends to do in his retirement, Hillard said he plans to sleep in, take a trip to San Diego and enroll in a cooking class.
"I'm going to take off three or four months," he said. "I need to wind down."