When he was growing up in Riverside, Ed Petrak always wanted to attend Riverside-Brookfield High School. His parents, however, insisted that their two sons go to Catholic schools, so Petrak attended Quigley South High School.
But now, just after retiring as the chief of the Brookfield Police Department, Petrak will finally get to spend his days at RBHS. On July 14 the Riverside-Brookfield High School approved hiring Petrak to work building security for the upcoming school year.
“I’m finally going to be a part of RB, which is great,” Petrak said in a telephone interview after his hiring was made official.
Petrak retired as the Brookfield police chief on July 12 after serving as chief for a little more than two years, capping a 31-year career in the Brookfield Police Department. But his retirement won’t last long. Exactly one month after leaving his job in Brookfield, Petrak will begin working at RBHS.
Petrak, 54, a former youth officer, said working at RBHS was the perfect retirement job for him. He always enjoyed working with school kids. During his police career, Petrak taught the DARE anti-drug program in schools and started the Let’s Win program at S.E. Gross Middle School.
“I worked as the school liaison officer for more than two decades,” Petrak said.
Petrak said working with young people was his favorite part of the job. He ought to feel comfortable in schools – his father was a teacher, as are his wife and son.
Petrak will become the second retired police chief to work at RBHS. Former North Riverside Police Chief Lane Niemann, the school’s safety liaison officer, was hired at RBHS in 2018. Petrak and Niemann know each other well, as their careers took parallel tracks.
“I’ve known Lane a long time,” Petrak said. “We were both in the Juvenile Officer Association together. He taught DARE, I taught DARE. Just a lot of similarities.”
Unlike Niemann, Petrak won’t carry a gun at RBHS. He will be just a regular security employee and likely will spend most of his time directing traffic, monitoring the entrances and being a presence in the hallways.
Petrak is the third retired local police officer on the security staff, joining not only Niemann, but also Claude Cima, who was hired in 2007 after a 30-year career as a police officer in Riverside.
As the Brookfield police chief, and earlier in his career, Petrak worked closely with RBHS officials on many issues.
“I’m excited to be there; it seems a perfect fit for me,” Petrak said. “The staff there has always been friendly.”
Superintendent Kevin Skinkis said Petrak was an obvious choice as the school beefs up its security team this year, in part to better enforce social distancing.
“Ed has worked closely with the high school over the years on various projects,” Skinkis said. “He has also worked RB after-school events when the high school has had police coverage from the village of Brookfield. Ed has a good relationship with the staff students and community. We are excited to have him be a part of the team.”
Petrak will be paid $16.50 an hour at RBHS, a far cry from the $138,737 he earned as Brookfield police chief, but he also will be getting his police pension.
Petrak said he views his role at RBHS as being a friendly face who makes students and staff feel safe more than as a disciplinarian.
“I don’t view security as being somebody that kids are afraid of, or should be. It’s more I think you’re a resource, you’re there to help people,” Petrak said. “You’re there as a support system.”