New sheriff in town

Margi Washburn
Kerry Loncka was sworn in as the new Henry County Sheriff on Friday, July 21. Loncka fills the position vacated by Sheriff Jim Padilla, who recently retired.

With family, and many friends and colleagues looking on, Henry County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Kerry Loncka became Sheriff Kerry Loncka after being sworn in by Judge Terry Patton, on Friday, July 21.

Former sheriffs Gib Cady and Jim Padilla were also on hand to offer congratulations.

Born and raised in Kewanee, Loncka graduated from Kewanee High School and earned his bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice from the University of Dubuque in 1989.

In 1990, he was hired by the sheriff’s department, where he started out as a corrections officer and dispatcher.

Loncka spent four-and-a-half years in those positions, then tested for road patrol and was promoted to that position around 1995. After a year he was tested and promoted to sergeant of patrol, and one of the sergeants of a shift.

About a year and a half later there was an opening in investigations and after taking a test, Loncka was promoted to investigator.

Nine months later Loncka tested for and became a lieutenant in investigations, where he worked for 13 years, handling “any kind of case you can think of,” he said in an interview prior to the swearing-in ceremony.

In 2010, he was asked to assume the patrol lieutenant position as supervisor of the patrol division, and was named to the newly-formed Henry County Illinois State Police Major Crimes Task Force as a supervisor.

Four years later, Loncka was asked by then-Sheriff Jim Padilla to take over as Captain/Chief Deputy where he served up until Padilla’s retirement six weeks ago.

Loncka was also the

department’s first state-certified accident reconstructionist, a position that required 280 hours worth of college classroom time taken at Northwestern University and the Florida Traffic Institute. After taking the prerequisite four courses he was qualified to take a two-day test. At that time, Loncka said, the test had an 80 percent failure rate but he passed it.

“It seemed like I was getting called out all the time for vehicular homicide, aggravated reckless driving and more,” said Loncka.

The department now has three or four accident reconstructionists which Loncka said was a good thing, since most of the time the worst accidents are on rural roads that go from blacktop to gravel and drivers aren’t always aware of that.

Loncka will oversee 24 corrections officers, 13 dispatchers, 16 patrol officers, three investigators, one full-time court security, one full-time cook and four office employees.

Loncka feels the department has moved leaps and bounds through the years. “Gib Cady left the department better than when he came in, and the same is true for Sheriff Jim Padilla. That is what I hope to do.

“I’ve got a vision where we become more embedded into the public. When you ask law enforcement how they know whether they’ve done a good job or not, the biggest indicator is public opinion.”

Loncka believes the department has good public support, especially compared to some of the bigger cities but he wants to expand on that by having officers become more involved in speaking to churches and service groups, explaining why they do what they do.

Loncka noted that it sometimes looks like an officer is being a little rough or over-zealous when making an arrest but that there are safety reasons for the officers. He is often asked about why the department does not have body cameras but says the department cannot afford them. Along with the initial cost for the cameras, there is data storage and personnel to download and manage the data since courts are wanting copies for every interaction with police. Loncka said some departments are considering using cell phones their officers can wear.

“When you have something people can see, it’s going to vindicate an officer more times than not and that will save us from accusations that aren’t true.”