By Steve Robinson | September 7, 2021 - 4:14 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – Three decades in any profession can leave any one person with a range of emotions depending on the person and their experiences. As he’s about to celebrate 30 years as a member of Normal Police Department, Chief Rick Bleichner admits joining the Town’s police department is one he described as “his first real grown-up job.”

Bleichner, 51, joined NPD as a patrol officer Sept. 9, 1991, and worked his way to being a detective and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant in 1999. In 2001, Bleichner was promoted again, to the role of Lieutenant and assigned to oversee the department’s Criminal Investigation Division. From there, he was appointed to Assistant Chief of Police in 2004. He became chief Aug. 1, 2011. Upon succeeding then-retiring Chief Kent Crutcher, Bleichner became only the fourth police chief the Town has had in the last three decades.

He accomplished this having graduated from Carl Sandburg College and earned a degree at Western Illinois University, where he did an internship at the Peoria County State’s Attorney’s Office before seeking a job which would send him toward his law enforcement career. After graduating from WIU, he explained, his job search “picked up steam and a month or so after leaving the State’s Attorney’s Office, I was in the police academy. That would be Champaign-based Police Training Institute where he spent 10 weeks in training.”

“Ninety-five percent of the job is being able to communicate and talk to people,” Bleichner explained. While doing that, officers try to “build some rapport with people because once you build that rapport, and you can establish a little bit of that kind of communication, then the rest of the call goes by a lot smoother.” He said once his supervisors guided him toward that approach, many calls he went on while on patrol “went smoother.”

In Bleichner’s opinion, “the Town has done a pretty good job of setting down what the expectations are” for his job. For himself, “I wanted to be in a place that focused on people because, at times, it’s just as important as how the job gets done itself.”

Among the changes Bleichner said he has noticed in recent years is the public’s seeming mistrust in government and how it operates, which includes how police departments function in the current age. Bleichner said there wasn’t that kind of thinking when he began his career.“There just seems to be more mistrust, or skepticism, if you will, that the public is being told the right things.” Bleichner said such questions show the public now has “an appetite to know and that’s not a bad thing.”

“I think it’s a good thing because, no matter what you’re doing, whether it’s at 7 o’clock in the morning, 7 o’clock at night, or 2 o’clock in the morning, you should be confident in telling the public that if someone was riding along or sitting here having a conversation, that I am OK that we explaining why we did what we did” given any situation.

Bleichner’s boss, City Manager Pam Reece, got a sense of that sort of thinking as she said she feels “grateful” to have him as a member of the Town’s leadership team. “I find him to be very forward thinking because he likes to address issues head-on but always tries to find solutions and better ways to do things. One of Rick’s biggest strengths is he likes to build relationships.” In addition to that sort of personalized effort, she credited Bleichner with helping NPD to help expand the school resource officer program the department has with Normal’s Unit 5 School District where resources officers are at the four junior highs and two high schools.

While with NPD, Bleichner has gone from being a patrol officer to overseeing those officers as a field training officer to working in detective division to being assistant chief, a post he held for seven years.

“We’ve been very, very fortunate to have assistant chiefs who were well prepared to take on the role of Chief of Police,” Reece said. She credits Bleichner with doing “a good job at mentoring leadership in the department for those to take on greater roles and become sergeants and lieutenants and assistant chiefs – that very important. Rick has done a lot of great things with Normal PD and I look forward to continuing that.”

But police departments are people who need to keep pace with the times, which includes technology, Reece added. She mentioned Bleichner’s continuing to have the department invest money in body cameras, radio improvements, and other tools law enforcement that are now standard with modern police departments.

Bleichner said all the experiences he had along the way in those sections of NPD “got him ready” for that next step – “ready to be more involved in the operations of the police department, ready to be more involved in the operations of the police department, and more involved in giving input in the policies and how we do things,” he said.

He grew up in Yates City, Ill., a town of 850 people in a corner of Knox County, halfway between Peoria and Galesburg. He said his initial understanding of law enforcement was shaped living in a town where “we knew the police, the police knew us and there was a level of interaction and there was some level of trust.”

He admits he believed that wearing a uniform and a badge would mean people would automatically trust and respect such authority. What he said he learned though was such trust and respect often had to be earned. He said he credited the officers on the job who trained him with teaching him about ways to talk to and work with people while serving them while wearing a badge. “At the end of the day, it was all about communication – talking to people,” Bleichner explained. He said that became important for him understand because there would be instances where he and other officers would ask people to do things needing to be done that some people just refused to comply with.

Bleichner said the lesson became necessary so that any situation he encountered didn’t result in what Bleichner called an “adverse action – an arrest, or use of force.” He said he learned over time “not every call would be settled in five minutes and you were going to have to deal with a variety of people who are in a varying type of state of sobriety, but other times people are just frustrated.”

Being part of law enforcement has become a family matter for Bleichner and his wife of 28 years, Nichol. She met her husband while working as an NPD dispatcher. She is now Deputy Police Chief for Illinois State University Police Department. The couple have three children.

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