Retiring Mokena police chief reflects on career
BY GINGER BRASHINGER Correspondent February 26, 2014 7:02PM
Mokena Police Chief Randy Rajewski speaks at his retirement recognition ceremony. | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 28, 2014 7:11AM
Mokena Police Chief Randy Rajewski is still taking the advice of his high school shop teacher, Steve Pollack. That may be because Pollack also was Rajewski’s predecessor as police chief.
“Now that you are moving on to the next chapter of your life, turn the page, close the book and move on,” Pollack said at a recent retirement recognition ceremony honoring Rajewski.
Rajewski, 50, whose retirement becomes official next Monday after 29 years with the Mokena Police Department — he’s been chief since 2003 — will make his new home in Arizona with his wife Patty to be closer to family and start a new life.
Rajewski said although his career path isn’t certain yet, there will definitely be a second career.
“I will be actively searching for another career, but at this time, I don’t have anything lined up,” Rajewski said. “I hope something comes my way.”
Rajewski can tap into quite a few good job references, if words of praise and friendship from those who have known him and worked with him are any measure.
Former Mokena mayor Joe Werner, with whom Rajewski worked for eight of his 10 years as police chief, said in an open letter to Rajewski, “In my opinion, you are, always have been and always will be the most professional, respectful, courteous, thoughtful, insightful, tireless and dedicated police chief.”
Village trustees had high praise for Rajewski, too.
Trustee Don Labriola described Rajewski as “one of the finest, most capable law enforcement officials that I’ve ever known and worked with” and a “tough act to follow.” Trustee Joe Siwinski said as a result of Rajewski’s leadership, the Mokena Police Department is “probably the best police department in the Chicago suburbs.”
Siwinski said as someone who came up through the ranks to achieve the position of police chief, Rajewski is “a role model” for others.
“And you’ve done it with dignity,” Siwinski said. “You have the highest integrity. You’re one of a kind.”
Rajewski’s professional, lead-by-example attitude and personal humility have endeared him to those who know him well.
Trustee John Mazzorana said he once put out a call for help when the Mokena Historical Society couldn’t get into Village Hall.
“I’m expecting some ... police officer, but who comes jumping out of the car at 8:30 in the morning but Chief Rajewski,” Mazzorana said. “Sometimes he even shovels snow for us.”
Village manager John Downs said Rajewski’s personal and professional qualities “gained the respect of everyone in the community who has worked with you and known you.
“You have made a mark on our community,” Downs said.
Rajewski’s career really began when, as a teenager, his positive impressions of police officers in his hometown of Hickory Hills led to his decision in 1983 to spend two years as a cadet with the Hickory Hills Police Department.
“It’s just something that always interested me,” Rajewski said. “I thought it would be an interesting, dynamic career, and one I felt in the long term would be good for my family.”
Rajewski said things have worked out that way for him and his wife Patty and their daughter, Kristen, 30, and son, James, 28.
“It ended up proving to be a good (decision),” Rajewski said.
He earned his associate’s degree in criminal justice in 1985 from Moraine Valley Community College, and his bachelor’s in public administration and master’s in communications and training from Governors State University.
“When you’re a police chief, you’re really a jack-of-all-trades in a way,” Rajewski said. ”I think the importance of being well-rounded in your education is vital to success in this position.”
During his tenure as police chief, Rajewski attended the FBI Academy at Quantico, Va.; earned the certified police chief designation from the Illinois Association of Police Chiefs — one of only 70 police chiefs to currently hold the certification — and served as president of the Will County Police Chiefs Association.
Rajewski advanced the police department’s ability to respond to residents’ needs through the Rapid Recovery Program to help locate missing persons; Crime Reports, a web-based crime mapping program; and a prescription medication drop-off program, among many other programs.
Crime in Mokena in 2013 “hit an all-time low,” according to a proclamation made during the ceremony.
Werner not only credited Rajewski with keeping “thousands” of Mokena residents safe throughout his tenure, but said Rajewski gave “countless hours ... to assist me in all the community endeavors without hesitation.
“Without it, those events would not have been the same,” Werner said.
Rajewski counts those hours among his most meaningful and memorable. He said working with the Mokena Mayors Charity Foundation’s events was especially rewarding.
“I really enjoyed seeing the fruits of our labor going back into the community,” Rajewski said. “That was probably the biggest highlight of my career.”
For Rajewski, it was never all about getting the bad guys, but something that “can be so much bigger and so much broader in terms of how you’re helping the community,” Rajewski said.
“That was one thing I liked about working (in Mokena), that being police chief here was bigger than police work,” Rajewski said. “It was more about being out in the community and trying to do different things to help people.”