Why Glen Ellyn police chief says Jimmy Buffett saved his life


The late Jimmy Buffett is best remembered for tropical rock hits including “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” but Glen Ellyn Police Chief Philip Norton fondly recalls the singer for more personal reasons.

“Jimmy Buffett saved my life,” Norton told his village board last month.

 
Glen Ellyn Police Chief Philip Norton shows the scar he was left with after undergoing surgery to remove skin cancer. Norton said he was prompted to be screened for cancer after the death of singer Jimmy Buffett.
Joe Lewnard/jlewnard@dailyherald.com

Daily Herald Staff Writer Katlyn Smith tipped us off to Norton’s remarks, and we reached out for the rest of the story.

In a news report about Buffet’s death last year from Merkel cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, Norton heard a doctor recommend that you should visit a doctor “if you have a pimple that won’t heal.”

 
The death of Jimmy Buffett, shown here playing at Wrigley Field in September 2005, prompted Glen Ellyn Police Chief Philip to get screened for cancer.
John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.com, 2005

“And I heard that and thought, ‘Well, you know, I had this thing that I thought was from shaving my head, and it was an irritation,’” Norton said.

He got it checked out, and that “thing” turned out to be a basal cell carcinoma, a highly treatable form of skin cancer. A procedure known as Mohs surgery followed to remove it.

That was the easy part.

 
Glen Ellyn Police Chief Philip Norton with one of the sunscreen dispensers he’s had installed in locker rooms at the police station. Norton is encouraging officers to protect themselves after he recently battled two types of skin cancer.
Joe Lewnard/jlewnard@dailyherald.com

A nurse cleaning him up after the procedure noticed two small, red and purple spots on the left side of Norton’s face. A doctor advised having a plastic surgeon look at them.

Those spots, Norton later learned, were symptoms of amelanotic melanomas ‒ a deadlier form of skin cancer. The chief underwent surgery to remove them, followed by chemotherapy. Now he’s on a six-month course of immunotherapy.

He had to take 10 weeks off work during his treatment. Now back on the job, he’s sporting a large scar that extends from under his ear to the back side of his neck.

Taking action

In an interview Wednesday, Norton told us that police officers can spend hours in the sun’s ultraviolet rays unexpectedly, such as if they are called to secure the scene of a crime or direct traffic at a crash site.

“We’re killing these guys,” he said. “We’re exposing them to something dangerous.”

While Norton can’t say for sure that he got cancer from on-duty sun exposure, he wants to make sure his officers and staff are protected.

That’s why he’s installed sunscreen dispensers in the locker rooms at the Glen Ellyn police station. Officers are encouraged to apply the 30 SPF lotion before heading out for their shifts.

 
Glen Ellyn police officer Omar Casarez models a bucket hat embroidered with GEPD. The department has encouraged officers to wear the hats, instead of traditional baseball caps, to further protect them from the sun.
Joe Lewnard/jlewnard@dailyherald.com

He’s also encouraged officers to swap baseball-style caps ‒ which don’t protect ears and the back of necks ‒ for floppy bucket hats the department has purchased for them.

“We’re so stuck sometimes in the past with formality of uniform, not practicality,” Norton said.

In addition, Glen Ellyn has installed sunscreen dispensers at its public works department and a village-owned golf course.

Norton is scheduled to speak to the DuPage County Chiefs of Police Association about his efforts. He’s already heard from a fellow chief, who has booked an appointment for a skin check.

He notes that the sunscreen and new hats are optional.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. But the response so far has been very good,” Norton said.

COaSTing to success

A two-year-old program that teams seven Lake County law enforcement agencies to assist people suffering mental health crises is getting national recognition — and a financial boost to keep up its efforts.

The Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COaST) was honored last week with a 2024 Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties. The award honors innovative, effective county government programs that strengthen services for residents.

Launched in January 2022 by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, COaST also includes the Gurnee, Libertyville, Lincolnshire, Mundelein, Vernon Hills and Lake Forest police departments.

Through the program, a police officer from one of those departments and a sheriff’s deputy partner with a social worker, clinician or peer specialist to respond to mental health-related calls.

Since its inception, COaST teams have responded to dozens of calls, allowing trained professionals to spend as much time as necessary with the person in crisis.

“Our COaST program was one of the first in the nation, and we are so incredibly proud of its success,” Sheriff John Idleburg said. “We have been able to provide services to thousands of Lake County residents since the program’s inception.”

In more good news for the program, state Sen. Adriane Johnson, a Buffalo Grove Democrat, was able to secure a $250,000 state grant for COaST. The money can be used for general operational expenses, staffing, capacity building and equipment.

Sad news

Forrest, the courthouse comfort dog at the Kane County Judicial Center, has been retired for medical reasons.

Forrest, a therapeutic dog who works at the Kane County Judicial Center, has retired due to illness.
Photo courtesy of Pam Ely

The English Labrador retriever has developed a mass in his chest that is impinging on his heart and affecting his breathing, Lisa Aust, executive director of court services, told a county board committee Thursday.

“It is heartbreaking for a lot of us,” she added.

Forrest, 9, started working in 2017. He was trained to provide support and reduce anxiety for people appearing in court, such as victims testifying. One of his assignments was attending treatment alternative court, including accompanying probation officers when they met with clients.

Aust said Forrest had an ability to sense which youths had the worst background of abuse and neglect, and went to them.

“That dog just knows,” she said.

• Do you have a tip or a comment? Email us at copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.



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