James Lazansky (left) was elevated to the rank of commander earlier this month, while Leo Kotor was named Riverside’s new deputy police chief. | Bob Uphues

The Riverside Police Department got a new No. 2 in command earlier this month when Director of Public Safety Matthew Buckley elevated Leo Kotor to the position of deputy chief.

Kotor, a 25-year veteran of the force, replaces Frank Lara, who retired after a 36-year career in Riverside Aug. 10. Lara had been named deputy chief in 2021, a year that saw a significant shakeup in the police command structure.

That summer both longtime Chief Tom Weitzel and Deputy Chief William Gutschick retired within a month of each other. Buckley, who previously served as Riverside’s fire chief but who also had been deputy police chief in Lyons, at that time was named director of public safety, overseeing both the police and fire departments.

At the same time Lara was promoted to deputy chief in 2021, Kotor was named commander. A Riverside native, Kotor was hired as a police officer in 1998 and was promoted to sergeant in 2013.

He was named detective sergeant in 2017 and served the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System Emergency Services Team – essentially its SWAT team – from 2002-2018 and led an entry team for that unit.

“That helped him here in Riverside develop skills as a supervisor,” Buckley said. “He has a very broad knowledge of the inner workings of the department.”

Sgt. James Lazansky was selected to be commander from a field of six internal applicants to fill the commander position in the department as Kotor’s replacement.

Buckley said the village hired an outside firm to conduct an assessment of the candidates, which came from both the patrol and sergeant ranks. Buckley and Village Manager Jessica Frances also conducted candidate interviews.

While Lazansky had only been a sergeant for about a year, he has been a Riverside police officer for 20 years and has served as a detective since 2013. He also was named the commander of the West Suburban Major Crimes Task Force’s homicide investigation unit in 2015.

“He has experience as a detective and experience working patrol,” Buckley said. “He’s very thorough and was a natural fit for that position. We need that solid knowledge of the whole department.”

Officer-In-Charge Michael Panek was promoted to sergeant, replacing Lazansky. Hired in Riverside in 2011, Panek is a member of the NIPAS Mobile Field Force bike unit. That force is deployed to respond to incidents of civil unrest. 

Until 2022, Panek served in the U.S. Naval Reserve. During 2017-18, Panek served for 12 months overseas and was deployed to the Horn of Africa. He has also served as an evidence technician for WESTAF.

The Riverside village board budgeted for hiring three new police officers in 2023, with the first of those, Jonhy Perez-Saldana, in the final couple of weeks of his field training period, riding alongside another Riverside officer on patrol. After completing field training, Perez-Saldana, who was hired Jan. 3, will be patrolling on his own.

Officer Kevin Delgado, hired in April, graduated from the police academy earlier this month and began his field training in Riverside on Aug. 28.

Kevin McMahon, who serves as a lieutenant in the Riverside Fire Department, started the 14-week police academy training on Aug. 28. He will not start his field training until December and won’t be patrolling on his own until early 2024.

Those hires follow on the heels of three new hires, Ryan Spears, Genevieve Gotay and Brian Simental, in 2021 and 2022. The hiring spree comes as a generation of Riverside police officers have retired and with the prospect of a couple more in the near future.

“It takes about a year to hire, have someone go through the police academy and then start solo patrol after field training,” Buckley said. “That’s a long time to be without a police officer.”

In 2022, Riverside approved a policy to allow veteran officers to transfer laterally from another department in order to speed up the down time when someone retires. However, Riverside has not been successful in at least two attempts to hire someone in that fashion.