Back in 1973, working the night shift as a patrol office in North Riverside was a little like being in Mayberry.
"When you worked the midnight shift, there would be no calls," said North Riverside Police Chief George Kratochvil. "You'd get maybe one a month. It was very quiet."
Kratochvil joined the North Riverside Police Department in that year. And while working his way up the ranks in the department, the Village of North Riverside has changed dramatically. And after over 30 years on the force, Kratochvil has decided that the village needs one more change. On Feb. 21, he's taking off the badge and retiring as the village's police chief.
"North Riverside has definitely been a nice place in terms of guidance and support from the village board and mayor," Kratochvil said. "I've always been able to run the department without interference."
Deputy Chief of Police Anthony Garvey will be recommended to the village board by Mayor Richard Scheck to replace Kratochvil. The board is expected to confirm that appointment at its regularly scheduled board meeting Feb. 21. Taking Garvey's spot as deputy chief will be Lt. Tom Tauer.
"[Kratochvil's] legacy is such that he brought solidarity to the police department by blending police officers with the youth of the community," said Scheck. "He instituted the D.A.R.E. program and kept officers in tune with the youth of the community.
"He has a very commanding presence, but he's a very compassionate and gentle person."
Kratochvil grew up in Cicero and graduated from Morton East High School before attending Morton College, Aurora University and eventually Northwestern University's School of Police Staff and Command.
After serving a stint as a fire dispatcher in Northbrook, he took both the police and firefighter exams for North Riverside. He placed No. 1 on the fire exam and No. 3 on the police exam, but always knew that he wanted to be a cop.
"It was the direction I wanted to go all along," he said.
Back in 1973, when he first pinned on the badge, North Riverside was a very different place. The North Riverside Park Mall was still just a rumor. There was no Dominick's, no Frank's. The area where the Village Commons now stands was the site of the Melody Mill Ballroom.
"I think I was the 13th officer hired," Kratochvil said. "Now we're up to 28. Instead of dividing up the town into zones, we patrolled the entire village."
Once the mall was built, life for the North Riverside police changed dramatically. While the mall brought in tax revenue that allowed more officers, state-of-the-art equipment and technology, it also meant more crime and a faster pace.
"It's bittersweet having a shopping center," Kratochvil said. "But you enjoy the revenue it brings, and residents enjoy having the extra officers. There's more street coverage. It also gave us the opportunity to purchase a lot of the technology to perform our duty to the best of our ability."
While moonlighting as a security guard during the mall's early days, Kratochvil remembered a key conversation he had with the owner of the old Paddor's clothing store.
"I told him someday I wanted to be a sergeant," Kratochvil said. "And he said, 'Don't limit yourself.'"
In 1991, heeding that advice paid off when Scheck appointed Kratochvil as the department's chief.
"The main reason I appointed him was that he was a cop's cop," Scheck said. "He had the respect of his fellow officers.
"I'm very proud that I appointed him some 14 years ago. He's done such a tremendous job for North Riverside."
During Kratochvil's tenure, the department has modernized the telecommunications and 911 system, redesigned the squad cars and introduced such technology as in-car computers and video cameras.
Kratochvil and his wife will likely remain in their North Riverside home for the time being, he said, but will likely move closer to the couple's daughters, who live in Tennessee and Texas, in the future.