Eric Van Hook, O’Fallon’s director of public safety and police chief since 2013, will be honored as the Illinois Police Chief of the Year by his peers in a ceremony this April.
The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police has selected Van Hook, citing his leadership in his community, leadership in his own police department and service to the association.
Van Hook will receive the award on April 26 during the association’s annual awards banquet in Oak Brook, Ill. The board of officers choose Van Hook from a strong pool of nominations from different parts of Illinois.
“Chief Van Hook is highly regarded as a law enforcement leader in the Metro East and now, throughout the state,” said Ed Wojcicki, the ILACP Executive Director. “It was impressive to read letters of support from a diverse variety of O’Fallon community leaders. He is proactively addressing every major issue facing law enforcement today, including community policing, recruiting minorities, active shooter training in schools, officer wellness, and building relationships of trust. His leadership is as solid as it gets in Illinois law enforcement.”
City officials and fellow police officers are hailing the chief as one of the most innovative and professional men to lead the department as the city grows, and so do its public safety needs.
“Eric is a true leader in the O’Fallon Police Department and the community,” Mayor Herb Roach said. “He is a great example of the high quality of professionals that serve this community.”
The mayor cited a citizen survey which found that 97 percent of O’Fallon residents had a feeling of safety in the community.
“That says a lot about the way our police department reacts,” Roach said.
He noted the chief’s emphasis on being involved in the community, and how they go into schools, nursing homes and businesses. He noted Take Back the Night and Coffee with a Cop.
“He has been very instrumental working and developing programs. He’s done a good job within the department and the community,” he said.
Roach said that except for 18 months in Collinsville, Van Hook has spent all of his career with O’Fallon, starting in 1990. For the past six years, he has been director of public safety.
In that capacity, Hook manages not only the police department, but also the City Fire Department and the Department of Emergency Medical Services. The O’Fallon Police Department has 50 full-time sworn officers and 31 civilians such as telecommunicators, records clerks, and community resource officers.
Capt. Kirk Brueggeman, a 20-year department veteran, has served with Van Hook his entire career. He is captain of support services.
“As a captain for the past 2 ½ years, I have been extremely fortunate to work very closely with him and learn from him,” Brueggeman said. “I can speak for Captain Cavins in that we both value him as a leader, mentor, and friend.”
Cavins, captain of patrol operations, was out of the office last week. Cavins and the chief began their careers together 28 years ago.
“Chief Van Hook embodies the mission of our department. He demands excellence from everyone in our organization and makes everyone feel like a valued member of the team,” Brueggeman said.
Among the chief’s accomplishments are several key programs to point out from a leadership standpoint. Although there are more, Brueggeman said, these are noteworthy:
* Our recruitment initiative, www.wearthebadge.com
* His dedication to Officer Wellness
* Our monthly meetings with members of “Continuing the Conversation” at the O’Fallon Apostolic Assembly Church.
* Adoption of the 10 Shared Principles between the police, city and NAACP.
* Training for Active Shooter Events.
Brueggeman said the Officer Wellness emphasis was because Van Hook understood the stress that officers and staff face.
“To combat this, he has implemented several programs to assist officers in dealing with these challenges so they can go home to their families safely, both physically and mentally,” he said.
The church conversation meetings seek to keep an open line of communication between the police department and members of the minority community.
“These meetings help build trust and legitimacy between the police and the minority community,” he said.
In June 2018, after attending the ILACP annual conference, Van Hook and the city adopted the 10 Shared Principles at a city council meeting.
“Our local chapter of the NAACP, the Chief, Mayor, and NAACP President Francine Nicholson all signed the Shared Principles as a showing of solidarity. We were one of the first departments south of Springfield to adopt these principles,” Brueggeman said.
“As a follow-up to the adoption of these 10 shared principles, the O’Fallon Police, under Chief Van Hook, has engaged in quarterly meetings with our local NAACP leadership to discuss these principles and how we can each use them to improve relations,” he said.
OPD is on the forefront of training for active shooter events, he said.
“Schools, churches and Businesses have all received instruction from OPD personnel on how to keep their organization safe,” he said.
In October 2018, after months of planning, the O’Fallon Police Department along, with the O’Fallon Fire Department and O’Fallon EMS participated in Rescue Task Force Training for Active Shooter events.
“Chief Van Hook saw the need and the potential and worked to make this training a reality in O’Fallon,” Brueggeman said.
Alderman Kevin Hagarty, who has represented Ward 3 for eight years, has served on the Public Safety Committee that entire time, with being the chair the past two years.
Hagarty said that the council has been highly supportive of the chief’s efforts.
“We have made public safety a top priority. We are a community of many assets, and one of our greatest assets is our department of public safety,” he said.
“We have a lot of respect for him and the department. Such good officers, from the brass on the top and down,” Hagarty said. “Chief Van Hook has instilled trust in the department.”
Hagarty has been a probation officer with St. Clair County for 30 years, so he is familiar with this field.
“I know the amount of paper work the chief has to do, and the way he must handle all the budgets. We work with him to make sure he has what he needs. We’re up to 50 officers now – we’re getting where we need to be,” he said.
Hagarty said the growth of O’Fallon has much to do with the city’s public safety and the quality of the schools.
The commercial growth adds responsibilities to law enforcement too.
“With the hospital coming to O’Fallon, and growing more on the east side, we needed more officers on the street,” he said.
Hagarty said he has lived in O’Fallon for 18 and a half years and is proud of how highly regarded the department is.
“I have never heard one bad thing about the chief,” he said. “He makes sure all the I’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed so that the department can run efficiently.”
The mayor agreed. “It helps that the leadership is top shelf. If you look at all that he has accomplished, the chief has gone above and beyond,” he said.
Roach wrote a letter of recommendation to the state committee. “This is tremendous honor for the chief. This state recognition shows what we’ve known all along.”
The chief has made communication a top priority, both Hagarty and Roach said.
“He has various programs for seniors, for high school students, and he reaches out to get their involvement on different levels,” Roach said.
Another of Van Hook’s accomplishments is that O’Fallon participated in an arduous accreditation process, and last fall it achieved its goal.
The department was only one of 28 in the state to be accredited, and just one of two south of Moline.
The Fire Department also was recognized as one of the top 15 percent in the state, and they are 90 percent volunteer, Roach noted.
“The chief has done a fantastic job, and will continue to be very instrumental in our growth as a city,” he said.