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New Oswego police chief looks back, ahead : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
New Oswego police chief looks back, ahead
'Ride along' with cop as a teen sparked interest in law enforcement career

by John Etheredge


It was a "ride along" with an officer in a Naperville Police squad car when he was in high school that sparked newly appointed Oswego Police Chief Jeff Burgner's interest in a career in law enforcement.

"That little, short snippet of law enforcement I got seemed really exciting and unique. That's what got the wheels turning and I decided to go to school for that at SIU (Southern Illinois University) at Carbondale," he said.

When he entered college, Burgner said he originally wanted to pursue a career with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), but officials with the agency advised him he first needed experience working as a police officer.

"So I kind of shifted gears at that point and never had one regret about it," he said.

After graduating from SIU in 1995, Burgner began his law enforcement career the following year when he was hired as a patrol officer for the village police department. Over the past 18 years he steadily worked his way up the ranks in the department from patrol officer to detective to detective sergeant, patrol sergeant, to captain.

The village board confirmed Village President Brian LeClercq's appointment of Burgner as police chief in a 4-0 vote July 15. Burgner will succeed Dwight Baird as chief following the Nov. 4 general election. Baird is an unopposed candidate for the position of Kendall County Sheriff.

In an interview last Thursday, Burgner looked back on his law enforcement career to date, assessed current trends and challenges in local crime-fighting and discussed his plans for the department as chief:

Coming from Naperville, how did you find a job with the Oswego Police Department?

"I had a good friend from high school and her mom had moved to Oswego when we were in college and she had actually cut out an advertisement from the Ledger-Sentinel that the police department was looking for officers and she gave it to me. She said, 'Hey, our local police (department) is hiring.' That's how I found out about it."

Has your perception of your job and police work changed in the years since you started your career?

"Absolutely. When I first got hired there was that excitement of handling the different calls and interacting with the different people. As you spend more time here and also work in the different areas of the department and the different levels of the organization you realize it's bigger than just going out and handling calls for service or handling a traffic stop. Now there are interactions with the community and building relationships and partnerships with the community. Early on, I think you don't realize that because someone else has already built those."

Oswego has changed and grown in the years since you've been here. How has it changed from a law enforcement perspective?

"I believe the expectation of professionalism-just becoming more and more professionalized and the training is greater. Training has become a huge part of this job. In our department and globally, really, training is so important because there is so much we have to know. Technology is very much involved in the job now. When I started we didn't have computers in the cars and we had old VHS recording systems in the cars. Since then we've gotten the laptops in the car and progressed to tablets. We've also gone from the VHS to a number of phases of digital recordings. So, for the officers, it's not just about going out and doing traffic stops and interacting on different calls. You have to be somewhat tech savvy to do this job and that requires a certain skill level.

"Just keeping up with the trends in the criminal system is very important. The courts and the case law and making sure your officers are protecting themselves and the village from civil liability. That's all done through training and doing the job the right way based on the training."

Has the nature of crime changed in Oswego since you joined the department?

"I've seen a significant increase in our finance-type crimes, just because of the technology. Our identity theft and credit card-type cases have definitely seen a big rise since I first started. We will always have the domestics and the occasional robberies or different types of violent crimes, but I don't personally feel on those more serious crimes we've seen a large increase. I think the village has done a great job of maintaining the crime rate because they have made a commitment to having sufficient police on the force."

What is the long-range trend for crime in the village?

"From what I'm seeing is we are starting to get a little burst in the growth of our businesses again so I think we will see retail thefts on our radar and we will see that continue to increase. Again, I think the technology-related crimes (will increase) and we have to try and keep our officers trained where they can at least handle those and investigate them. I believe the computer-related and technology-related crimes will continue on. That's something we have to keep our eyes on."

What is the trend in gang crimes?

"There is a presence of gang members, not necessarily living here but passing through town, spending time. There is a presence of it, but I don't believe it is a large presence. I do see it in neighboring communities which we border up to. They have had issues and I think with us having the volume of officers working, I think, has helped (here). My vision is to be proactive about it and possibly in the future have an officer who is assigned to focusing on it, rather than be reactive and wait for something to happen or see the problem get bad and then make a decision to react to it.

"The gang members communicate. They know where to go and where not to go. I think if it is known that this community is focusing on preventing it and focusing on being proactive to prevent the problem I think it will help not to allow it to come into the village."

What about stopping the spread of heroin?

"That is something that Chief Baird has made a commitment to. We've been a member of the local drug task force since its inception and, obviously, he made a commitment to having an officer on the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) Task Force and that's something I absolutely plan to continue. I supported it from day one. The work the officer is doing on the task force is significant work. Some of the cases he's talked about...the quantities are sizeable. It's not like our local task force isn't being effective, but when you hear about multiple kilo deals you just know you're making a difference by having that officer assigned to that task force."

What will you be doing between now and when you become chief in November?

"I'm going to be working on transition into the chief's job. Right now I have to maintain my day-to-day functions as a captain, but I also need to start working with the chief to transitioning in to fully taking over his job. In talking with him, I will probably be more involved in anything new moving forward. With the decision-making, he'll be there as a mentor, a guide. Anything that is significant or new and is more long-term beyond his time here, I'll be more involved in the decision making there. He'll be working on whatever is out in the wind that he can shore-up and then I can take over when he leaves."

What do you expect to be your immediate challenge when you do become chief?

"Luckily, I'm coming into a place that is running on all cylinders right now. So it is great to be part of an organization with a foundation that is so solid that I don't have to fix anything. I'll be building on it. I think we are doing a very great job in providing police service to our community. (But) there are some programs that I want to look into that I think we can do a little bit more or a little bit better. For example our senior services area. We provide different things (now) and I want to get a little more involved with our senior groups. We are seeing more construction of senior living facilities. We are going to see an increase in our senior population and we need to focus on finding resources to build on what we are already doing. My vision is similar to what we do now with our (subdivision) homeowners associations and business districts where we have two or three officers assigned to those homeowners' groups or business groups. I'm looking to have officers assigned to the different (senior) facilities in town. That way we'll have a nice conduit between the department and those facilities. Also, I'm looking to get a little bit more interaction with our senior center."

How about inter-departmental cooperation? Will you be working with the other police departments in the area?

"Absolutely. I know for sure in talking with the chief that we'll have some great partnerships between the sheriff's department and the Oswego Police. A lot of these relationships are already built, so I'll be looking to grow them. I envision some multi-agency training opportunities, whether it be something large scale like our recent training at Oswego East High School or simply range trains with multiple police departments so we are all on the same page with different tactical operations.

"There has been talk for a number of years about possibly creating a gang task force in Kendall County. There has been discussion about that and that's something I definitely want to talk to the other law enforcement agencies in the county about. The chief and I have already discussed it and it's something that when we both kind of get into our roles we are definitely looking at getting a task force up and running with other Kendall County (law enforcement) agencies.

Planning was underway for a new police station prior to the recession in 2008. What is the current status of that project?

"This is something I know we're going to have to take a look at sooner rather than later. We'll have to revisit our space need analysis and see if the one we originally completed will still suffice. I don't know if we would have to re-do the whole thing because our footprint hasn't changed much as far as staffing. Our needs haven't changed significantly since that was done, but we'll look at it and see if we need to revise it a little bit. We just have to figure out the property side of it; where are we going to build? But that's something that is definitely on my radar. It's something that I see in that three to seven year area. My goal would be to have that happen within that range."

So a new police station would be built in three to seven years?

"That would be my hope, based on the capital improvement plan we've developed as a village. If that plan changes and we modify it, then I'll modify my plans accordingly."

Is there any doubt in your mind the department will need a new facility?

"I believe so. We are getting to the point now where we have a building that is well over 20 years old and we are starting to see some decent sized repairs. At some point you have to decide OK, do we put some money into something that is old and stay there. Size-wise there are areas where we could use a little more space and a little more up-to-date equipment. So I think it is definitely a need."

How many officers was the building designed for?

"I believe it was 50 officers and we're right there now."

Parking is an issue.

"Parking is one of our biggest problems, the amount that we have. Any time we have any time we have a training event that lot fills up real fast. That's obviously a concern."

You competed for the chief's job through the interview process with two other veteran department officers, Capt. Nick Sikora and Sgt. Chris Biggs. Are you all going to be able to continue to work together now that you've been appointed chief?

"It's been great. We communicated amongst ourselves throughout the process. Even beforehand Nick and I had communicated with each other about it. It's been such a positive process going through it. Obviously (since the appointment), Capt. Sikora and I have talked and Officer Biggs and I have talked and I don't see any problems with it at all. The one thing that has been really nice is we have all been very supportive of each other.

"Going into it you know what skill set you bring to the table and it goes back to what the village is looking for. The right skill set is going to be put into that position."

As you moved up the ranks in the department you had a number of different roles, which one did you like best?

"I loved being a detective. Being a detective was probably the best five years of my career. I got to do so much on different cases and I felt so involved with so many different things that were going on in the department. I love being in a leadership role in the department, but just working the cases (as a detective) was a great time.

"Overseeing the investigations was a very close second. Being able to be involved in the direction (of the investigations) was awesome, too. Investigations in general have always been a passion of mine. It's where I've always felt I've excelled."

What are your thoughts on traffic enforcement?

"Traffic is big part of what we do. Right now I can tell you it's where we get the majority of complaints about stuff, and that's good because it points us to where we need to go. It's definitely an important part of what we do because there is a huge public safety side to it. Obviously, I believe in having and keeping our traffic unit and plan to continue the focus we have now. Early in my career did I do a lot of traffic? I did a fair amount, but it wasn't done in the same manner we do it now where it is focused. Back then it was more random. We just went to an area and looked for cars to stop. We didn't really track it. Now we have a real good idea of where the problems are and put our resources in those areas."

What will the department be like in another five years?

"I think in the next five years something I will have to focus on along with our command staff, Capt. (Jim) Jensen and Capt. Sikora, is a succession plan. In the next five years we're going to see a lot of people retire. We hired a lot of people in a short amount of time and at some point in time they are going to want to leave or retire. So I think one of the things I will have to focus on internally is a succession plan and working with people to prepare themselves for retirement if that's what they choose to do. We will have to focus on losing people to retirement but also we'll be growing, so I'll have to keep an eye on making sure we keep our staffing levels at a rate that is acceptable and that we can afford."

Will we see changes in the way the department serves the community?

"I think our community interaction will only grow. It's consistent now and we've gotten better and better. Our homeowners program we have (now) is part of a long-term plan and it's really starting to grow. We have officers assigned to each HOA and they know who the presidents of the associations are. The neighbors are starting to know their officers and that, to me, says a lot about our program. We have those relationships built and I see that continuing to grow. I just see our community involvement just growing.

"I'm definitely going to encourage our staff within the department and the community to provide feedback or input on things they would like to see done better or implemented. There may be some programs that officers in our department may want to see started up and brought forward. I'm going to keep an open mind as to expanding the services, but I definitely don't want to get to the point where we are okaying a whole bunch of stuff. I would rather have quality programs and services and really hone-in on them a little better and really be good with them rather than just do everything. And I don't think that is what we do now. That's not what I'm saying. I don't want to come in and say, 'OK, we're going to do everything.' If we are going to start up a new program I want to make sure it is meaningful for the community and I want to make sure as a department we can manage the program and make it a successful venture."

You play the bass drum as part of the department's honor guard. Will you continue to do that?

"I'm planning on that, but at some events it may be difficult. The great thing now is we're partnering with the fire department on some of the events and they may be able to provide their bass drummer for events like PrairieFest when it will be difficult for me to participate."

Do you enjoy playing the bass drum?

"I love it. You get so many different people coming up to you and talking. It's great conversation piece and it's only positive and such a nice thing. It's so nice to have those positive interactions (with the public)."

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