Joliet taps veteran for top cop post
BY BRIAN STANLEY email@example.com August 28, 2013 11:46AM
Brian Benton was named the Joliet Police chief on Aug. 28, 2013. | Supplied photo.
Updated: September 30, 2013 7:41AM
JOLIET — The police commander who has been running the department on an interim basis will take over permanently.
City Manager Tom Thanas on Wednesday named Brian Benton as the city’s top cop. The senior administrator has been acting chief since Mike Trafton retired last month.
Thanas informed Benton of his selection after the city council met in closed session Tuesday night — too late for the 23-year veteran to avoid spending his first official day at the top embodying a joke frequently heard in law enforcement circles about the chief’s whereabouts.
“I golf maybe twice a year, but my neighbors and I had already paid our registration for the annual Fraternal Order of Police outing,” Benton said from Hole 10 at Wedgewood Golf Course.
Benton said he welcomed the contrast of an easy day from his first morning as acting chief earlier this month, when a man allegedly opened fire in the middle of a crowded restaurant to kill another man.
Benton, 44, has worked as an undercover narcotics officer and led the Neighborhood Response Team and drug unit. Benton earned awards from a state task force each year from 1997 to 2000 for “outstanding efforts dismantling major drug trafficking organizations.”
Benton was named to the command staff in 2008 and ran the technical services and professional accreditation divisions before taking over investigations.
Benton grew up in Chicago, where many of his neighbors and friends’ fathers were police officers. He attended St. Laurence High School in Burbank before majoring in criminal justice at the University of Illinois-Chicago and Lewis University. He earned a master’s degree in public safety administration from Lewis.
Being named chief, however, means Benton must relinquish command of the department’s SWAT team, of which he has been a part for 20 years.
“It’s a difficult step to leave a passion like that,” he said. “But I think making critical decisions to resolve life-or-death situations on the SWAT team prepared me the most for the challenges I’ll face now.”
Thanas said Benton’s experience and knowledge earned him the appointment over the other candidates and changed Thanas’ plans to leave the task of choosing the next chief to his own successor.
“Going through the interview process showed Brian had the leadership skills that are needed as chief. My opinion was (that) in the interest of bringing stability to the police department, it was more appropriate to make it a permanent selection,” Thanas said.
Benton said he will focus on developing bonds between the department and neighborhoods, especially high-crime areas. He’d like to see the philosophy of community policing — where officers regularly patrol a neighborhood instead of just rolling out when someone calls — spread to every division in the department.
“I think the biggest challenge will be providing the service that’s expected in light of the staffing shortage we have,” Benton said Wednesday.
The state’s fourth-largest municipal police force cut more than 40 positions, including deputy chief, over a five-year period. But 10 new officers were hired earlier this year, bringing the total to about 250.
Benton and his wife, Alejandra, have three children — Marissa, Noah and Jacob.
A fan of musician Bruce Springsteen, Benton also enjoys fishing and spending his family vacations at a cabin in northern Wisconsin.
After Benton’s appointment was reported on The Herald-News website Wednesday morning, his phone rang steadily with congratulatory calls and messages.
“I’m afraid it’s distracting my foursome,” the new chief said. “I’m tempted to silence it, but that next call might be the biggest emergency that needs (an immediate) response. That’s the responsibility I have now.”