More changes are on the way within the Riverside Police Department as the village transitions to a combined Department of Public Safety and Emergency Management later this month.
The department’s incoming director, Fire Chief Matthew Buckley, has been working with outgoing Police Chief Thomas Weitzel in preparing for the latter’s May 20 departure.
Last week, Weitzel announced that Deputy Police Chief William Gutschick will be retiring effective June 18. Gutschick, who stepped into the role as deputy chief in 2017 after having served as the operations lieutenant for the department for three years, has served as a Riverside police officer for 33 years.
Gutschick said his plan had been to leave the village the same day as Weitzel, but he decided to stay another month to assist Buckley during his transition to director of public safety and emergency management.
“It’s a lot to take on for Matt,” said Gutschick, who as deputy chief has worked mainly behind the scenes performing critical functions including handling budgeting, scheduling, accounts payable and billing.
Gutschick joined the Riverside police department in 1988 and during his career has touched nearly every role the department offered while working his way up the ranks. He was promoted to sergeant in 2006 and to lieutenant in 2014. He served as the Riverside emergency dispatch center supervisor for 11 years.
He was a member of the West Suburban Major Crimes Task Force forensic team and a member of the Illinois Impaired Driving Task Force.
“Bill is a talented administrator,” said Weitzel. “He never wanted the limelight as deputy chief, but in the department he was a very outgoing guy and never shut his door. He is also very well respected by chiefs of surrounding departments.”
Gutschick said what he’ll miss most is the close relationships he’s formed within the Riverside Police Department, with officers and their families.
“In Riverside we’re a family, and this has been my second family for 33 years,” Gutschick said. “We’re a smaller department, so you get to know everyone.”
During his career, Gutschick had his close scrapes, including one very early on that landed him an IACP DuPont Kevlar Survivors Award. In 1989, Gutschick was conducting a traffic stop on First Avenue near Zoo Woods when his squad car and then he was hit by a passing vehicle.
Gutschick’s injuries put him off duty for three months and police never apprehended the hit and run driver, though investigators said Gutschick’s bulletproof vest saved his life.
“The vest took the impact,” said Gutschick, who said investigators determined that the vehicle was a Ford van based on the paint transfer left on Gutschick’s jacket.
In 2009, Gutschick and three other officers were presented with the Cook County Sheriff’s Award of Valor for evacuating residents from a burning Harlem Avenue apartment building. The fire started inside an auto repair business next door and spread to the adjacent building.
“That was pretty scary,” Gutschick said.
While he’s proud of his police work, Gutschick, an avid bowler who carried a 200+ average, said he’s most proud of the 13 years he spent in his hometown of Plainfield teaching children the sport.
Together with champion bowler Patti Schultz, Gutschick nurtured 12 state championships during those 13 years.
“I would love to do that again down the road,” Gutschick said.
2 new officers sworn in
Riverside also welcomed two new officers into its ranks last week, when Weitzel swore in Sandra Blaylock, 27, and Ryan Spear, 25, during a private ceremony also attended by Buckley on May 3.
While Spear will begin training at the police academy, Blaylock comes to the village as a certified officer and is presently in field training in Riverside. Blaylock is a former Riverside community service officer who became a police officer in Willowbrook, resigning that job to come back to Riverside.
They fill the vacancies created by former Officer Joseph Mahanna, who left Riverside for another suburban agency, and Weitzel.
More police retirements could be on the way, as well, said Weitzel. Several Riverside officers have more than 20 years of service time and a few are approaching 30. As a result, Weitzel said he’s reserved two police academy spots in July for potential new hires the village may end up making.