By Bob Uphues
Lane Niemann, who has served as North Riverside's police chief since May 2013, will retire from the force on Nov. 30 after 34 years of service to the department.
"The last four and a half years have been great," said Niemann. "It's nice to have had the support of the mayor, the village board and the residents of the town. It made me proud every day. The entire department, from the deputy chief down to the patrol officers made my job very, very easy."
Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. has already confirmed that Deputy Chief Deborah Garcia will take over as interim police chief on Dec. 1 and will be sworn in as chief during the village board's meeting in December.
She will be the department's first female police chief.
"She brings a tremendous leadership quality to the position," Niemann said. "Her integrity is unquestionable."
Hermanek called Garcia's appointment as chief "the easiest decision I could have made."
Garcia, a 30-year veteran of the department, said she was honored to be named chief, calling Niemann a "friend, mentor and role model."
"I think he's taken us down a great path," said Garcia. "We've come a long way in four and a half years."
Niemann's retirement will spark a series of promotions within the ranks. Hermanek said he'll allow Garcia, who served as a patrol officer, detective and lieutenant before her promotion to deputy chief in 2013, to pick her own command staff.
For someone who spent more than three decades in law enforcement, you'd think that Niemann, 56, always had his sights set on becoming a police officer. But that wasn't the case; law enforcement found him.
In 1980, Niemann was working as a proofreader for a mail order company and going to night school, thinking he'd go to law school and become an attorney. But the mail order company was purchased by another firm, which laid off 3,000 employees, Niemann among them.
Living on the south end of Cicero with his wife and first child, Niemann's plans were thrown for a loop.
"I was panicking," he said.
Not long after, during a visit to the North Riverside Park Mall, Niemann met a classmate, who was working as a mall security guard. When told they were hiring, Niemann applied on a Friday and was hired the following Monday.
Like many of the security guards, Niemann gravitated toward finding a job as a police officer, landing a position with the Indian Head Park Police Department at the age of 22 in 1984.
A year later, he tested for a spot in North Riverside and found himself No. 2 on the village's hiring list. He was hired in June 1985, one of seven new officers hired.
From there, Niemann worked his way up through the ranks, saying he enjoyed the "team" aspect of policing.
"I feel throughout my career, I was fortunate in that I could rely on the teamwork part of it," said Niemann. "There was never a situation where I didn't feel like I didn't have everyone behind me. Hopefully, other officers felt as comfortable with me as I was with them."
Hermanek credited Niemann's "hands-on" style as a key to his success as a chief.
"He had an open-door policy for the most junior officers on up, and he got along well with residents, the board and administration. He was such a hands-on leader as chief, such a good communicator and a good person. That made a big difference, morale-wise."
Niemann said while he's retiring from the North Riverside Police Department, he's polishing his resume and will find work somewhere else, though what that's going to look like is unclear.
In the past, Niemann has worked as an adjunct faculty member at local community colleges, teaching law enforcement classes, a job he enjoyed.
But Niemann said he's also not ruling out another position in law enforcement. It's not uncommon for retired command staff and chiefs to find top jobs in other departments.
Eugene Karczewski spent more than a decade as police chief in Riverside after retiring from the Chicago Police Department. And, Riverside Deputy Chief John Krull retired in 2013 after 25 years there to become police chief in Olympia Fields.
"That is somewhat interesting to me," Niemann said.
Niemann said he and his wife, Laura, will remain in the Chicago suburbs, close to their four adult daughters, all of whom are teachers, and their seven grandchildren.
"I've enjoyed every minute in North Riverside," Niemann said. "I'll miss the guys, the residents and the community."