The new Caseyville police chief is no stranger to the area, coming out of a working retirement to lead the department.
Tom Coppotelli last week was named the new police chief for the Caseyville Police Department. Coppotelli, 52, has nearly 30 years of experience in law enforcement. That includes 24 years in the Collinsville Police Department, which he left as assistant chief to “retire” as the first director of public safety for Lindenwood University in Belleville.
But retirement didn’t stick. “When I got out, I thought I was ready to retire after 29 years,” Coppotelli said. “But I missed it more than I thought I would.”
Coppotelli began his career as a police officer in his hometown of Washington Park. He worked as an officer in Sauget and as officer and firefighter in National City before he was hired by the Collinsville Police Department.
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In Collinsville, Coppotelli rose to the rank of assistant chief by 2009. He served on the Drug Enforcement Agency Task Force and on the Major Case Squad, eventually becoming deputy commander. He is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia from which he said he learned about organizational skills, criminal investigations, conflict resolution and more.
He holds bachelor’s and masters degrees from Lindenwood, and was teaching a class in criminal justice there for three years before the university reached out to him about becoming director of public safety.
When I got out, I thought I was ready to retire after 29 years. But I missed it more than I thought I would.
Caseyville Police Chief Tom Coppotelli
Coppotelli said he was proud of his work at Lindenwood: creating a nine-member department, establishing equipment and radio system, and developing procedures and policies from scratch.
“Lindenwood was good to me,” he said. “It was a good move … it just wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.”
Coppotelli said he felt like he was watching police work from the sidelines.
“It feels extremely good to get back in,” he said. “I thought I was ready (to retire), but I realized … I was missing this type of work.”
Thus he accepted the new job in Caseyville, despite a good bit of ribbing from his old coworkers in Collinsville.
“It’s been merciless,” he said, laughing.
The Caseyville Police Department has had a number of problems in recent years. Former police chief J.D. Roth was on leave pending a federal investigation and charges of official misconduct when he committed suicide in 2013. Jose Alvarez was named to succeed Roth, but was fired by the mayor in 2014, reinstated by the village board, then fired again, in a long-running battle. He was replaced by the most recent chief, Frank Moore, who is now retiring.
In the interim, Officer Scott Miller, 48, committed suicide in his squad car, which hit the department hard. In the past year, four Caseyville officers have resigned to take other jobs.
The community has to trust the department; they have good professional men and women working there.
But Coppotelli said he is looking forward to the challenges of his new job.
“I think it’s a good community and a good department,” he said. “I want to move forward … I think a lot of this town. I know it’s had a lot of issues but a lot of towns have. I’ve had a wonderful welcome from all the residents here, the city council.”
Among his priorities: getting the department back up to full staffing, as officers are working a lot of overtime, he said. He plans an “open-door policy” as chief, and wants to be a visible, hands-on leader of law enforcement for Caseyville, he said.
“I think the police department needs to be an active part within the community,” he said. “We will show them that we care, that we want to respond to their needs … That’s why we’re hired to protect, why we’re hired to police.”
While Caseyville is already involved in the Major Case Squad and Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System, Coppotelli said he wants to prioritize community policing to rebuild trust in the police department among the community.
“The community has to trust the department; they have good professional men and women working there,” Coppotelli said. “If we reach out more to the community and gain their trust back, we will have more people out there being our eyes and ears.”