Buffalo Grove Police Chief Steven Balinski will retire in April, wrapping up 36 years of service to the village and sparking a nationwide search for his replacement.
Balinski was hired as a Buffalo Grove police officer in 1976 after graduating from Western Illinois University with a bachelor's degree in law enforcement administration. He said he knew even then that he wanted to advance his career.
“My goal was to serve with the highest degree of integrity with the understanding that I wanted to advance my career to the highest level afforded to me,” he said.
Balinski was able to do that without ever leaving Buffalo Grove. Over the years he worked up the ranks of the department, serving as a youth officer, detective, corporal, sergeant, commander and deputy chief before he was appointed to the top post in 2003.
“It was a dream and an experience I’ll never forget,” he said.
“I think it’s all about service. It’s all about going to work every day knowing that it will be challenging and that you’ll impact people’s lives,” he said.
He also advanced his education over the years, completing his master’s degree in public administration at Northern Illinois University and graduating from Police Staff and Command School and the Executive Leadership Program at Northwestern University.
Balinski has focused on many regional law-enforcement issues, such as drug enforcement and educational programs, international and national traffic safety and education programs, Lake County underage drinking and prevention programs, crime prevention program, national programs for missing and exploited children and disability awareness through Special Olympics Illinois, for which he has served as a group leader for 20 years.
'A community that cares'
Collaborating with such agencies as well as local schools and other organizations is among the most rewarding aspects of his work, said Balinski, who spoke glowingly of “a community that cares and works together.”
Over the years, Buffalo Grove has grown more collaborative, transitioning from employees with a “standalone purpose” to pooling community resources to better serve residents, he said.
Another source of pride, he added, is that “We have maintained one of the lowest crime rates in the country based on our population size.”
Balinski has also served as the past president of the Lake County Chiefs of Police Association, the Northeastern Illinois Regional Crime Laboratory, and currently serves on the Executive Board for Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group, Lake County Major Task Force, Lake County Crash Assistance Team, Suburban Law Enforcement Academy and the Northwest Central Dispatch Communication Center executive committee.
He is also a past president of the Buffalo Grove Rotary Club and is an adjunct professor for North East Multi-Regional Training, which encompasses hundreds of Illinois municipalities.
Balinski was praised Monday by village officials who acknowledged his upcoming retirement at their board meeting.
“You’ve been a great asset to the village for a long, long time,” Village President Jeff Braiman told Balinski. “You’re not only an asset to the village, but also a friend to us.”
Village Manager Dane Bragg described Balinski as “forthright and supportive.” The two have worked closely not only as village leaders, but as Rotarians. Though they’ve “had our moments,” Bragg said, “to his credit, he never pulled out his gun and shot me along the way.”
Finding a new chief
Bragg said the village will conduct a nationwide recruitment for Balinski’s replacement. Trustees on Monday voted to pay a recruitment agency up to $22,400 to identify candidates. Bragg said he anticipates a 120-day search process, and while it’s possible that an interim chief will be needed, he hopes to have a permanent police chief in place when Balinski leaves on April 2.
Balinski said there are a couple of key qualities he’d like to see in his successor.
“I think he’ll have to have a good understanding of the importance of human capital and the goals not only of the elected officials, but the entire village management team,” he said.
“I think whoever is chosen, it is imperative that they understand how important it is to have a working relationship with other entities in the village,” he added.
Balinski will spend the next four months maintaining those relationships as he leads Buffalo Grove’s 68-member police force. In retirement, he said, his first priority is to spend more time with family and friends. He also wants to continue to pursue his recreational interests, which include playing golf and softball.
But he’ll still be found around Buffalo Grove, where he plans to remain active in the Rotary club and continue to follow its “service above self” motto.
“It’s a saying that I’ll always abide by for the rest of my life,” he said. “I hope when I leave this village that people will remember I invested my heart and soul in service to Buffalo Grove.”