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Chicago Police Sergeant John Folino is Hollywood's Right-Hand Cop

By Kyla Gardner | December 2, 2013 6:36am
 John Folino works as a sergeant for the Chicago Police Department and as a consultant on shows featuring police work and Chicago.
John Folino, Chicago Police Sergeant and Hollywood Consultant
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IRVING PARK — John Folino is bilingual: He can speak both "cop" and "Hollywood."

That's why the Chicago Police Department sergeant is the go-to source for producers who want to give authenticity to shows like "Sirens," "Chicago Fire," "The Mob Doctor" and "The Chicago Code."

"There's a difference between being a police officer or detective and being able to really communicate it to an actor," said Jason Clarke, who played the lead Chicago homicide detective on "Code."

Folino is "able to be an authentic policeman, but he can also communicate within the film world, which is very different."

Folino, 38, became a sergeant in the Grand Central District in 2012, and spent 15 years before that working as a homicide detective, police officer, tactical officer and in gang intelligence. He began working in television in 2007 after winning a walk-on role in "The Shield" through a police charity auction.

 Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy (c.) with John Folino (l.) at Folino's sergeant school graduation in 2012
Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy (c.) with John Folino (l.) at Folino's sergeant school graduation in 2012
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Courtesy/John Folino

Now, if an actor who's never picked up a gun before needs to fire one believably on a TV set in Chicago, he's the guy to show them.

"Handcuffing is probably the most difficult thing that I have to work with an actor or actress on," Folino said. "What if [the arrestee has] a watch on? What if their jacket is longer? It takes arresting thousands of people through 15 years to get it right. If you hit someone the wrong way with a handcuff, you could break their wrist."

Folino helps with safety, especially when he lends real firearms to prop departments. He'll also take actors and actresses to shooting ranges or on police ride-alongs to give them a feel for the job.

Clarke, 44, said Folino taught him how to handle a gun, kick down a door, clear a room, arrest a suspect and pull someone over. What he learned about interrogations later informed his role in "Zero Dark Thirty."

"He's one of the best at that — how to break somebody down and get the information that you want," Clarke said. "He's a force of nature. It takes a lot to do what he does."

Folino works full time for the Police Department, both on the street and in court, testifying in cases from his detective days. On his off days, he answers questions from writers, producers, and prop and wardrobe departments, and prepares lessons for what he'll teach in his monthly Police Actor Training Seminar.

“It's not your average moonlighting gig by the police," Folino said.

But he's no stranger to working long hours, like when a 15-second scene takes 10 hours to film.

"I'm so used to being a homicide detective, coming into work on Monday and not going home until Wednesday," he said.

Folino also advises on Chicago-specific details, like when a detective character on "Dexter" was supposed to have been transferred to Miami from Chicago.

"'Perp' is not a word we use in Chicago. We use 'offender' or 'bad guy,'" he said, adding that Chicago uses police districts, not precincts, like some cities do.

And then there's the accent. Folino would record himself reading through Clarke's script for "Code," so the Australian actor could hear how he pronounced certain words.

Besides all the technical aspects — Denis Leary, of "Sirens," has asked him details about how to park his squad car when arriving on a scene — Folino also tries to focus on the larger picture for an actor's role.

"You could tell a real police officer immediately — there's a confidence and demeanor about them," he said. "I try to ensure that each and every actor kind of has that presence."

He's helped about 40 real police officers get extra roles on local shows, too, as they come equipped with that knowledge.

"John's a very highly regarded sergeant in the Chicago Police Department, and he does bring a lot of credibility to all these movies and productions, and as a member of that community, that’s what we like to see," said Henry Rush, 64, who worked for the Police Department for 25 years and teaches the Police Actor Training Class with Folino.

That respect is a serious matter to Folino, too.

"People have been killed in this uniform," he said to eight students, most of whom work as extras, at his class at Seldin Security in Irving Park recently. "So you want to represent not just the production company, but you also want to represent this uniform."

But by the time a show airs, the take used might not always be the one that features the most realistic police work, Folino said.

"At the end of the day, it's entertainment, it's fun," he said.

After going through Folino's basics class, several actors realized the entertainment side was the only one they wanted to work on when it came to law enforcement.

"I have a deeper respect for uniformed officers," Folino read off a student's review of the class. "I realize I only want to portray one on TV and film."

"See, at least they realize, they only want to do it on TV and not in real life," Folino said as he gathered up his uniform and police belt, preparing to head out that night to patrol the city's streets.