River Forest cop leaves ‘best job in the world’ after 31 years
Craig Rutz, who is retiring after 31 years with the River Forest Police Department, is well known for not liking his picture taken. So his police colleagues put this old photo on his retirement cake. | Photo courtesy River Forest police
Updated: February 25, 2013 11:09AM
RIVER FOREST — Craig Rutz first came to River Forest as an 18-year-old Concordia University freshman.
The village has since proved the place he would work in and call home for his entire adult life.
The River Forest deputy police chief retired last week after a 31-year career. When at Concordia, he studied theology and English, intending to become a teacher.
That all changed after Rutz’s senior year. In 1973, two of his Concordia classmates were brutally murdered after they surprised a burglar ransacking their apartment in Maywood (see side bar).
In the wake of the killings, Rutz, who had worked throughout college as a campus “night watchman,” was asked to organize a more robust campus security force. He did, and became head of the new department.
Eight years later, Rutz joined the River Forest Police Department.
There were some bumps during his 31 years, none harder than when he saw the need to blow a whistle on what he said was fraudulent behavior by others in the department. That ultimately led to three federal civil lawsuits, two of them for discrimination and retaliation. Rutz and his two co-litigants eventually won, but was later assigned to foot patrol and a permanent midnight patrol shift assignment.
Former police brass later went as far as to attempt to have felony charges brought against Rutz for his handling of a retail theft investigation. When those charges failed, the chief suspended him for three days, a judgment upheld by the village’s police and fire commission. On appeal, a Circuit Court judge reversed the village’s ruling in 2009.
Through it all, Rutz said, he retained his love for both River Forest and its police department. His departure removes considerable institutional memory.
Rutz was current police chief Greg Weiss’ training officer. And he spotted solid police characteristics in Sgt. Marty Grill, who now heads the department’s detective division.
As he prepared to leave police work and the village of River Forest on Jan. 16, Rutz described his feelings as “bittersweet.”
Q: Why the bittersweet feelings?
A: River Forest has been my community since 1969, when a entered Concordia. I feel like I’m an 18-year-old leaving home for the first time. This is the best job in the world. I hate to give it up. I wish I could stay here forever.
Q: What’s the essence of police work?
A: It’s about service. It’s the time (I stopped to) help a young couple. She was pregnant and he was trying to move a “large” air conditioner into their house, on a really hot summer day. That’s a really fulfilling thing, because you’re providing a service.
Rutz also recalled a loose dog that ran around the village for three days, with its mouth duct-taped shut.
“He became too weak to run and we finally caught him,” Rutz said. “It’s little things like that, you’re doing your part to make your community better. (They’re) the best days of your life and no one knows about it.”
Q: You also had to enforce the law. How do your handle the violent offenders?
A: It’s part of the profession. In my opinion, if I did as well as I think I did, (it’s because) I defused most situations that could have been a problem before they became a problem.
Q: And when that’s not enough?
A: You’re not proud of it, but then again, you’re always proud when you win. (After all) how can you help anyone else when you’re out of the game?
Q: You always adhered to high standards of conduct?
A: My job isn’t punishment. My job is enforcement. (What disgraced cop) Jon Burge did was created a climate of fear. That’s not what you want to do. You want to be known for doing it fairly.
Q: Can you tell me about the civil suits against the village?
A: It was not ever something we wanted to do. The village could have solved the problem. But it didn’t go that way. I really regret it had to go to court. The original complaint was (regarding) an 1861 federal statute on fraudulent claims. It got way out of whack over the years.
He noted that two other lawsuits were settled for $500,000 for discrimination and retaliation by the department.
“I really don’t think the village board knew what was going on,” he said. “They believed what they were told. I don’t think many people on the village board had real information. I wasn’t allowed to talk with them. I’m happy we prevailed. But it cost me my reputation, that’s for sure.”
Q: You feel the police union was essential to your success in the suits?
A: Yes. The no confidence vote (against top police management, taken in June, 2007), that was (the rank and file officers) saying ‘we have to stand up and do things right.’ The fact we went through those rocky times and came out stronger, I’m proud of that.
Q: What do you plan to do in retirement?
A: Play guitar, I’ve been studying jazz guitar for a while. I’d like to teach at a police academy or a junior college.
Q: So, anything your younger colleagues need to do better?
A: Some of them need to write better reports. Don’t print that until I’m gone. They’ll hang me.