News Flash

Town of Normal News

Posted on: April 12, 2022

Normal names new chief of police; Retiring chief reflects on long-time career in law enforcement

Professional photo of Normal Police Chief Steve Petrilli

Town of Normal City Manager Pamela Reece selected Steve Petrilli to be the next chief of police for the Normal Police Department (NPD). 

“Steve has been with the NPD since 1999 and is a proven leader with experience in many different roles. He has helped shape the police department’s strong culture of professionalism, integrity and service. The NPD and the Town of Normal will benefit from Steve’s vision, experience and passion to provide exceptional service to our community,” says Reece. 

Petrilli becomes the 17th chief of police for the NPD since 1925. In this role, Petrilli will lead officers dedicated to protecting the rights and property of those who live, work and visit our community. He replaces Rick Bleichner, NPD chief of police since 2011. 

“I have served the Normal Police Department and the citizens of Normal for more than 23 years. I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to lead this department as the next chief of police. I take immense pride in the police department officers and staff and how they serve and protect our residents daily. I intend to continue a community- and neighborhood-focused approach,” says Petrilli. “I appreciate the trust City Manager Reece has placed in me to lead this exceptional department. 

“Engagement in our community is vital and will remain an area of focus for the department,” he adds. “You can expect our department to continue our high level of professional service as we positively engage with residents and all stakeholders in our community.

About Petrilli

Petrilli joined the Town of Normal Police Department in 1999. During his tenure, he’s worked as a patrol officer, recruiter, field training officer, Emergency Response Unit (ERU) team member and as a K-9 handler. In 2007, he was promoted to sergeant where he served as a supervisor in the Patrol Division, ERU, Pro-Active Crimes Unit and the Vice Unit. In 2012, Petrilli was promoted to lieutenant and served as a patrol commander until being named assistant police chief in 2015. As an assistant chief, Petrilli has worked in all facets of Operations and Support Services.

Petrilli earned a Bachelor of Science in 1998 from Illinois State University, Normal. He is a graduate of the Northwestern School of Police Staff and Command Session #250 and the 264th session of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Most recently, he was selected to the 80th Session of the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar (LEEDS.)

He is a member of the following organizations: Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, the Chiefs of Larger Illinois Cities (CLIC), International Association of Chiefs of Police, the FBI National Academy Alumni Association, Emergency Telephone Systems Board (ETSB) for McLean County and the McLean County Metro Communications Board.

Petrilli serves as a subject matter expert in the area of first responder health, wellness and fitness. He also serves as a consultant to numerous academic institutions and teaches this content nationwide. Petrilli has a passion for wellness education and practices and has instructed thousands of first responder and military service members in this important topic.

A former college athlete, Petrilli has coached numerous local youth sports teams and has been a strength and conditioning coach for more than a decade. He and his wife, Jodi, reside in Bloomington and have three teenage sons. His hobbies include following his family’s athletic endeavors, fitness training, the outdoors, bee keeping and spending time with his dogs. 

Retiring Normal police chief reflects on long-time career in law enforcement

The 30-plus year career in law enforcement of Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner can be characterized with a simple, powerful phrase: dedicated professional

A professional photograph of retiring Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner</p><p>Dedicated to law enforcement

Bleichner knew at a young age he wanted to be in law enforcement: “I don’t remember ever wanting to be anything other than a police officer. I grew up in a small town and was impressed with local police officers. They protected our community AND represented it, too. They were dedicated … whether coaching little league or participating in service organizations like the Lion’s Club, they were leaders in our community.” 

Bleichner earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration from Western Illinois University, Macomb. He joined the Town of Normal shortly after graduation. 

Bleichner describes NPD officers and staff with great pride, “It has been my honor to lead this organization. From support staff to sworn patrol officers and supervisory leaders, they all do a great job. The fact is … they make me look good. They are every bit as dedicated to this profession as I am, and I’m proud of the culture we’ve created.

“I work with outstanding leaders and good people,” he adds, reflecting on the numerous promotions and accommodations he’s awarded during his 11 years as police chief. “I have enjoyed watching officers grow as leaders in our community, and I know I’m leaving the department in a good place.” 

A professional who gives back

Bleichner’s last official day in the office is April 22. Since joining the Town of Normal Police Department in 1991, Bleichner has held nearly every position in the organization. 

 He’s worked as a patrol officer, field training officer, detective and in all phases of operations and support services. In 1999, he was promoted to sergeant of the Patrol Division and also worked as the commander of the Emergency Response Unit. In 2001, Bleichner was promoted to lieutenant overseeing the Criminal Investigations Division. In 2004, he was named assistant police chief, a role he held until being appointed chief in 2011. 

In his career with the NPD, Bleichner has role modeled for others the importance of professional development, continual learning and the importance of giving back. 

He is a proud graduate of the Police Training Institute, the Northwestern School of Police Staff and Command and the 227th session of the FBI National Academy. Bleichner is a member and past co-chair (2007-2009; 2016-2018) of the Minority and Police Partnership of McLean County. Currently, he serves on the Finance and Strategic Planning Committee of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and as chairman of the Emergency Telephone Systems Board (ETSB) for McLean County. 

He is also a member of the following organizations: Chiefs of Larger Illinois Cities (CLIC), International Association of Chiefs of Police, FBI National Academy, McLean County Mental Health Advisory Board and McLean County Metro Communications Board 

“It’s important for law enforcement officials to cultivate strong support networks and remember who they are outside of the job,” says Bleichner. “Serving on committees and boards helps leaders make valuable connections.”

He also emphasizes important connections closer to home. He identifies his wife Nikki, a deputy police chief with the Illinois State University Police Department, and NPD leadership team as impactful resources who have helped him through the years. 

“Police officers deal with difficult situations every day, and it’s always something different. They know what they signed up for, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Regardless of role, the work creates challenges and can be all-consuming; officers need to stay grounded and find balance.” 

Adapting to and embracing change

During his career, Bleichner has witnessed enormous changes in law enforcement. 

“Officers are better educated, have better training and better equipment and technology than when I first started,” he explains. “The roles have also expanded and changed immensely.”

In terms of the role of law enforcement, Bleichner points to the fact officers carry NARCAN© to administer when they encounter a potential overdose. Likewise, officers now have defibrillators in their cars so they can respond and help those who are experiencing cardiac arrest.

“These encounters are high risk and, hopefully, low frequency, meaning they may not happen very often, but when they do, officers have to do it right,” he says, emphasizing the importance of training and the types of complex situations law enforcement deals with daily. 

Bleichner appreciates the advancement in technology. “We have the ability to use technology to solve crimes, it’s better than ever before.” He points to the decreased size of radios in cars, the use of video cameras in cars and body cameras, using tasers and social media as examples of the evolution of technology he’s witnessed.

Most notably, Bleichner points to how much the landscape of policing has changed during his career. Incidents of substance abuse, mental illness, gun violence, neglect and physical abuse are among the societal issues he’s seen rapidly increase during his decades-long career. Bleichner points to Rodney King and George Floyd as examples of situations which created pivotal changes in policing. 

“I tell my team, all officers, we can always do better. I’m an optimistic person. We need to always look for opportunities to improve, reinvent the position so we come out stronger on the other side,” he says. “Officers often witness incidents and tragedy that make them go home and hug their families a little harder. Policing is a tough job.”

Reflecting on the numerous cases he’s overseen during his career, Bleichner speaks with pride about inter-agency cooperation. “NPD is a good collaborator, and we’ve had good experiences working with other agencies, whether at the city, county, state or federal level.” 

Bleichner feels good about how he’s leaving the Normal Police Department. “I’d like to think I’m leaving it better than I found it, and I’m confident the next chief will do the same. It’s time for someone else to take over and put their stamp on this organization.”

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