Riverside Assistant Police Chief Thomas Weitzel has been chosen to replace outgoing Chief Gene Karczewski when he retires next year, the village president announced at Monday’s village board meeting.

The board voted to accept Weitzel’s new contract at the meeting, although Karczewski won’t be leaving the department until October. At that time, Weitzel will step in as acting chief, and will be sworn into the position when Karczewski’s retirement becomes official in January 2008.

Weitzel, 46, has been with the Riverside Police Department since 1984, when he started as a patrolman. He rose through the ranks as sergeant, detective sergeant, and lieutenant, finally being named assistant chief in 2003. He said this final promotion to the top position has been one of his longtime goals.

“I can’t honestly say that when I got hired as a patrolman 23 years ago that that was my goal, but as I was promoted through the department, it became apparent that I wanted to at least compete for the position,” he said.

Weitzel said he’s stayed with the village for so long because of the support he’s received from Riverside. This came from town hall, which he said provided a tuition reimbursement program that allowed him to earn his undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as funds to send him to numerous training programs as an officer. But it also came from village residents, which Weitzel said was rare for a police department.

“I love the community,” he said. “The citizens in Riverside really do support the police. There may be other communities where that doesn’t happen. This is not the case here.”

Village President Harold Wiaduck said Weitzel was the only person considered for the position. He was suggested as a candidate by Karczewski, and after the board interviewed him, they decided not to conduct an open search to fill the post.

“If we had to look outside the department, we would have,” Wiaduck said. “You don’t have a lot of opportunities to promote from within, but we know he’s been developed and trained very carefully. We know his quality as an officer.”

Weitzel said he’s already begun working with Karczewski to transition into the chief position. He said one of his first priorities will be developing a strategic plan for the department.

“I want to create a 3- to 5-year plan of where we want the department to go,” he said. “My idea there is that the citizens can tell us what services they expect and want, not the police telling them this is what we’re going to do for you.”

Weitzel’s initial plans are reminiscent of Karczewski’s beginnings as chief in 1996, when he formed a committee to draft a mission statement for the department. Weitzel has identified Karczewski as one of his longtime mentors, and at the meeting it was clear the admiration was mutual.

“I’m glad and gratified that the board has seen what I see in Tom,” Karczewski said. “Tom clearly has the leadership, integrity and common sense for this position, and I know the men in the department are pleased with this decision. When you have someone come from within, that’s clearly a sign that things are going right.”