Growing up, William Legg never intended to be a police officer. As a student at Western Illinois University, he had high hopes of going on to law school and entering the courtroom side of the justice system.

In his senior year, however, a planned internship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office fell through at the last moment. Needing an internship to graduate, Legg quickly accepted a position at the Riverside village hall. Through getting to know some of the police officers in the village during those few months, Legg said his plans started to change.

“I started to think, maybe I’ll do the police thing for a while, and then go back to law school,” he said.

Twenty-two years later, the now-Sgt. Legg has been named this year’s Riverside Officer of the Year. Given out since 1996, the award goes to police officers whose colleagues?”who are responsible for nominating each year’s candidates?”feel deserve special distinction, Assistant Chief Thomas Weitzel said.

The award was presented to Legg by Police Chief Eugene Karczewski at the annual Law Enforcement Memorial Service, held last Saturday in Guthrie Park.

For Legg, who is also a Brookfield resident, the recognition came as a complete shock.

“When I found out, my jaw dropped,” he said. “I know it sounds cliche, but I’m really just doing my job.”

According to Legg, it was the unique opportunities offered by this job that led him to permanently switch career paths. The biggest appeal, he said, was the fact that Riverside had a small police department, which allows its officers to play a variety of roles that would be unavailable to them in larger cities.

“In a small department, you’re the responding officer and the detective; you follow cases right through to the court trial,” he said. “You get to do every job. I’m probably better trained being in a small department than others are in their whole careers.”

While this opportunity for learning may have kept him in the uniform, others say it’s his willingness to also teach that has made Legg a notable officer. Weitzel, who nominated Legg for the Officer of the Year award, said he thought Legg deserved the distinction because Legg has always acted as a mentor for new officers in the department.

“We’ve had six new officers in the past four years, and he has always led the way, mentoring them to help them grow and develop as police officers,” Weitzel said. “He’s always been very passionate, the type of individual who sets an example for other officers to follow.”

Legg acknowledged that he has always seen mentoring as an important part of his role in the department, particularly now as a sergeant in charge of supervising other officers. He said he tries to help younger officers remain connected to the community they serve.

“With everything that we see on the job, sometimes young officers tend to put up a mental wall between the police and the public, to develop an ‘us versus them’ mentality,” he said. “But that’s not what we want. It’s much easier to get information and cooperation when you have a good relationship with the community. The community gets better police officers, and the police officers get more successful careers.”

In his own efforts to stay involved in the community, Legg also volunteers with the department’s Police Explorer program, an extension of the Boy Scouts, that gives teens interested in law enforcement the opportunity to learn more about being a police officer.

As an associate adviser with the program, Legg helps teach some of their weekly classes and occasionally brings scouts out to ride along in his squad car.

“It’s my way of giving back to the town that’s given me a living for 20-some years,” he said.