ROCHELLE — At Monday’s Rochelle City Council meeting, Jeff Leininger was surrounded by his Rochelle Police Department coworkers as he was recognized for his retirement after 23 years with RPD.
“That was humbling,” Leininger said. “It made me feel good to see them come out and support me and say kind things. It’s one of those things that makes you think you may have made a difference in the world.”
Leininger served in a variety of roles with RPD including patrol officer, detective, patrol sergeant, detective sergeant and finally deputy chief. He was also a D.A.R.E. officer and tactical team member.
“It was interesting,” Leininger said. “I was lucky to be hired when a lot of movement was coming up. To start on the street and see everything, people want that. Being a detective, you get to figure out more things. There’s a satisfaction in working and solving a case and making an arrest. You feel like you’re making a difference. Sometimes patrolmen can only go so far. Getting to the bottom of a case is a challenge. Being in charge of the detective bureau was exciting. I enjoyed teaching the younger guys.”
Leininger said he dreamt of being an officer early in life. He grew up in Rochelle. He applied for law enforcement jobs around the area when he was 21, but he then got away from the field and worked at Carnation. He later worked at the prison in Dixon as a corrections officer.
Leininger then learned that RPD was accepting applications for officers. He applied and was hired. The rest was history.
The field of policing has changed over Leininger’s 23 years. Little computers in cars that only ran plates evolved to include GPS mapping and access to more records. VHS tape car cameras changed to digital and now auto upload into a system upon pulling into RPD’s lot.
“We have a lot more training,” Leininger said. “People don’t realize how much goes into that. You have to do that and maintain your work on the street. There are more mandates. Cars have changed and are purpose built. They’re made to be cop cars.”
Leininger doesn’t believe Rochelle has changed much in his time policing it, and he said RPD’s involvement in the community hasn’t either. But he has seen the city get bigger and more spread out with more truck stops coming in. That has upped the city’s daily population, bringing more people in and out of Rochelle.
“Nothing has changed too much,” Leininger said. “The goal is still to serve and protect the city. Even with all the national negativity and anti-police sentiment, all of us at the PD have seen more people thank us recently. The occasional pop bought for us in the drive thru at McDonalds or a meal at the butterfly. It means a lot and we have seen more of it.”
Leininger considered retirement a couple of years ago, but talked himself out of it and was later promoted to deputy chief. That allowed him to do some of the things he always wanted to, such as getting squad cars outfitted a certain way and helping with computer systems, the things he called “pieces of the puzzle” that help to make things flow better and improve morale.
Working as a police officer in his hometown was something Leininger called both easy and hard at times.
“Sometimes you deal with people you know,” Leininger siad. “You’re just doing your job. I always enjoyed working here. It’s not all the excitement like Rockford and Chicago, but everything that happens in those places happens here. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Leininger said he doesn’t have many things planned for his first year of retirement. He wants to take a year off. He does plan on spending time with family, working around the house, jumping back into his photography hobby and riding his Harley.
“I ride it every Friday in the summer,” Leininger said. “Maybe someday I’d like to be on the city council or do something like that. I can’t sit around forever. But it’s going to be different. I haven’t not had a squad car outside my home in 20 years.”
When asked about memories from his career that stand out, Leininger recalled a day early in his time as a patrol officer when a man smashed the candy machine at the laundromat off South Main Street. He watched a grainy security video. He saw a man later that matched the description and sure enough, it was him.
“I talked with him and he confessed,” Leininger said. “I’ll remember things like that and doing D.A.R.E. and teaching kids and seeing them graduate and doing security at football games. It will be weird not putting on the uniform and going out the door every day.”