Last an Elgin police officer in 1959, octogenarian gets a look at today's force
By Janelle Walker For The Courier-News June 12, 2012 11:20AM
Rita Johnson, gets out of the drivers seat of an Elgin police car during a Senior Citizen Police Academy for residents 55 and older at the Elgin Police Department Wednesday. May 30, 2012. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 13, 2012 6:01AM
ELGIN — Victor Senger really enjoyed being a cop.
His career with the Elgin Police Department is notable due to its time frame. Senger, now 82, was an Elgin patrol officer from June 1954 to December 1959.
But with six children at home and him already working a second job to help pay the bills, Senger left the Elgin department and went back to his first love, as a machinist.
Now, 43 years later, Senger is one of 30 area senior residents learning about what it takes to be a police officer in Elgin in 2012.
Cherie Aschenbrenner, the department’s senior liaison, has been offering a Senior Citizens Police Academy for the past six years. Elgin also offers a citizens police academy, but the senior citizen class is a special one for her, Aschenbrenner said.
She was visiting Senger’s retirement community when he told her about his past with the police department. Aschenbrenner thought Senger would enjoy seeing how is old department had evolved over the years.
The difference between his time in the department and now “is night and day,” Senger said.
Back in 1954, Senger had seen his work start to dry up at the Elgin National Watch Co., where he was an apprentice and then a machinist working on a special project for the U.S. Navy. Then he read in the paper that the police department was looking for new officers. Senger was one of three or four men who were accepted out of a roomful who took the test.
For the first two years of his career, Senger walked a beat in downtown Elgin. It was the overnight beat, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. When the bars closed downtown, “you might get your shirt dirty,” Senger said. He was one of the officers making sure Elgin’s bustling downtown shopping area was safe and quiet.
One of his most memorable cases occurred when a “safecracker” had hid out in the Joseph Spiess department store until after closing. A night guard there heard the man and called police.
“We played cat and mouse with him through the second and third floor, all the way to the roof,” where they cornered the suspect, Senger said. He, another officer and the security guard all held guns on the man, who had one of his own. “He had three of us to shoot. One of us would have gotten him,” so the man surrendered, he said.
Later, Senger was given better hours and a patrol car — one of just three in Elgin. Those cars ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Senger said. “A couple of guys would get out, and three more would get right back in.”
He also vividly remembers a New Year’s Eve call from out by Pingree Grove, where they’d gotten a warning that a drunk was driving through on Route 20 and already had driven through a garage west of town. The driver was “oblivious to the lights and siren. He was barreling down Route 20, and we had to get him stopped,” Senger said. Senger ended up using his car to force the man off the road.
“His car was a mess. Mine was, too,” Senger said.
Getting those kinds of calls and finding out information about drivers is one of the biggest changes in police work he’s seen so far, Senger said.
When he was on the job, he had to radio in information to the desk sergeant, who’d pull out a ledger and look up the car and driver’s information. If they didn’t have it, the next call would be to Springfield, to have the state police look up the plates.
“There was a lot of stuff you had to guess about,” Senger said.
“Now they have all kinds of information in the twinkle of an eye on your computer” in the squad car, he said.
The Senior Citizens Police Academy runs for five Wednesdays, Aschenbrenner said, and has residents from Huntley, Elgin and South Elgin. Once the seniors are finished with their class, they also are invited to be involved in the alumni group. Those alumni often help volunteer with city events, including the Fourth of July parade and Fox Trot on Memorial Day weekend.
The alumni group recently purchased a dog wash for the department’s K-9 teams, so a muddy-from-work dog can get a nice warm bath before getting back in his squad car and going home.
“When they understand what police do, they have a better feeling about the department,” Aschenbrenner said. “We want to give them an education, and that is what we do.”