BLOOMINGTON — The local state police veteran who will become the city’s next police chief said Monday his top priorities will include meeting with other area law enforcement agencies to build good relationships.
Retired Illinois State Police Lt. Col. Brendan Heffner will start work on Oct. 7 as the city’s next police chief with an annual salary of about $130,000.
The 53-year-old Bloomington resident has lived in the area since 1978, is a graduate of Illinois State University and in the 1980s worked as a patrolman and detective with the Normal Police Department. He retired from the state police’s division of internal investigation in 2010 and currently is a safety and security specialist for State Farm Insurance Cos.
“(Bloomington) is a great place to live and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to at least apply and try to lead what I think is a great police department,” Heffner said.
Heffner said the first order of business will be “to get to know the fine officers of the department” and meet with agencies. “A problem in Bloomington can also be a problem for Normal and for the county. We have to be able to work together to resolve these problems,” he said.
Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner said he’s worked with Heffner when Heffner was with the state and said he was a good choice. “He’s pretty commonsense-oriented. If there’s something that needs to change, he’ll certainly look at that,” Bleichner said.
City Manager David Hales did not return phone calls Monday but in a news release praised Heffner’s qualifications and knowledge of the community. He said Heffner “is also a real champion of using technology to improve productivity and streamline the reporting functions that are so important.”
Heffner said he will continue the department’s efforts in problem-oriented policing, when police address specific problem areas by building relationships in the community and collaborating with other city departments.
Heffner will start with the department about a week after interim Chief R.T. Finney leaves. Assistant Police Chief Clay Wheeler, who was among six finalists for the chief spot, will lead the department in that time.
The chief spot opened up with the retirement of Randy McKinley, who left with an annual salary of about $139,000.
Heffner will take the reins on the heels of several high-profile controversies involving the Bloomington Police Department.
Earlier this summer, the department’s former evidence manager filed a federal lawsuit against the city that includes allegations of lapses in how evidence was stored and tracked.
The department also has come under fire for the way it dealt with then-Assistant Chief Bob Wall’s October 2012 traffic accident in which he knocked over a utility pole and left the scene before calling police.
The city also is facing a federal lawsuit alleging racial profiling during traffic stops.
In all cases, Heffner said he couldn’t speak to the past episodes but would review the department’s policies. “You can’t stop everything, but if you have good policies and procedures, these are minimized,” he said.
Asked if his role as the city’s top police official would help diminish any real or perceived racial issues, Heffner, an African-American, said: “The direction of the department starts at the top, and I believe in diversity.”
But, he made clear that he believes he was hired based on his qualifications and when hiring new officers “diversity does not come at the cost of lessening qualifications.”