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Normal police chief Rick Bleichner to retire next month

Chief at a podium
Ryan Denham
WGLT file photo
Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner speaks to the media during a press conference.

Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner, who's led the department for the last 11 years, said Monday he plans to retire next month.

Bleichner joined the Normal Police Department in 1991, serving as a patrol officer, field training officer, detective and in all phases of operations and support. He became chief in 2011.

"I have given this great consideration and the time is right,” Bleichner said in a statement. “The organization has six new recruits preparing to report to the academy at the end of April and I am confident the department is headed in a positive direction.

“I cannot adequately express my gratitude for all the opportunities I have been afforded during my career,” he added. “It has been my greatest professional honor to lead the Normal Police Department.”

Bleichner told WGLT he had considered retiring last September, but deferred the decision because Assistant Chief Eric Klingele retired in August, and Bleichner did not want to strip the department of nearly 60 years of institutional memory all at once. Since then he said he has re-distributed some administrative duties to broaden areas of responsibility.

Bleichner said he also wanted to wait until the department went through a hiring process and came back up to full staff after a prolonged period with vacancies. He said that task will also be done next month.

“The biggest thing that I take pride in are the people. I've always said you could leave the organization, and somebody could come in tomorrow and change every policy and practice that you've got there. But it takes a lot longer to change the staff, the culture that you've created there. And hopefully, that'll be part of what people will remember. I enjoyed that part of it, hiring people and setting them up to be successful,” said Bleichner.

Bleichner came on at a time the size of portable radios was not much smaller than the radios in squad cars. He said he has seen a lot of advances in technology.

Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner in an interview at the WGLT studios Monday.
Charlie Schlenker
Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner in an interview at the WGLT studios Monday.

“From having cameras, in squad cars, to cameras on our officers, tasers and less lethal options that we saw, as things that you saw on science fiction shows, now have in some cases become reality,” said Bleichner.

He said the biggest change is the number of things officers must have skill in to respond to community needs.

“The types of calls we handle involving mental health, different types of first aid, those were simply things that we just did not have to deal with, with much frequency back in '91. Now we carry defibrillators in our squad because sometimes we will beat Fire and Rescue to those calls,” said Bleichner.

He said law enforcement hires people from a broader background than it used to. He said once there was a trend of hiring from the military or from law enforcement families. That’s less of a pattern now. And although the job description still only requires a high school diploma, most successful hires have college degrees.

“And not just in criminal justice. We are hiring individuals that have degrees in business and arts and things like that. It's as much about communication as it is anything; goal setting, going through the process, it gives you a level of commitment to follow through on things, planning, it helps set that expectation for moving into the professional world. We've also had good experience with individuals coming out of team sports, because we found they understand how that contributes to overall goals,” said Bleichner.

Bleichner said he thinks diversity initiatives will eventually succeed and police departments will more accurately represent the communities they serve.

“And I think that that's good for us, because they're looking at things with the training and experience and their background through their lenses. And I think that gives us a much better-balanced police department.”

The town said City Manager Pam Reece will announce plans for Bleichner’s successor by the end of the month.

“The Town of Normal has been fortunate to have Chief Bleichner lead the Normal Police Department for more than a decade,” Reece said in a statement. “He has served with the highest ideals of professionalism and integrity and is a role model to many. Chief Bleichner leaves a legacy of leading with humility and a dedication to the importance of mentoring others and promoting a professional culture. I am grateful for his steady, visionary leadership and ability to cultivate strong community partnerships. Chief Bleichner’s impact on the department, the organization and the entire community will endure.”

Bleichner said he will take a few months off before deciding on a firm direction in retirement. He said he will also spend time with his family that have sacrificed much for him over the years and with a first grandchild.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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