DeKALB – DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery said his decision to retire was “bittersweet” in a letter sent Monday to DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas.
Lowery, who has spent seven years leading the city’s police department, will step down as leader of the department and its 65 sworn officers May 31.
“I have been honored to serve with the finest men and women in law enforcement,” Lowery wrote in his resignation letter. “Their character and commitment are second to none; they have more heart, dedication and courage than any I have come to know throughout the years. During the past seven years, they have gone through many changes as we evolved our policing style from reactive to proactive.
“... My wife, Caroline, has been my rock and it is time for me to be all I can be for her and our family.”
Nicklas called Lowery a “dear friend,” and reflected fondly on the police chief’s leadership style. The two first met when Lowery started as chief and Nicklas was working at Northern Illinois University, Nicklas said.
“Gene and I connected immediately,” Nicklas said Monday. “I find his honesty and his humility very powerful, and his passion for service is remarkable. I am not losing a friend, but I’ll be losing a co-worker on whom I rely for counsel and support. And I’ll miss him.”
DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith said he has grown to respect Lowery in many ways, calling him “courageous and compassionate.”
“Between that compassionate side and that tough side, I can’t say enough about how much I’ve learned to respect that man over the two years I’ve been here,” Smith said.
Nicklas said he already has notified the City Council with Lowery’s letter of resignation, and the topic will be on the May 13 council meeting agenda to begin discussing the process of filling the emptying role.
During Lowery’s tenure, the police department moved to a new building at 700 W. Lincoln Highway from its old space at the DeKalb Municipal Building, 400 S. Fourth St. The department also implemented the Safe Streets Initiative, a program meant to improve safety in neighborhoods around NIU by ramping up police patrols, creating new parking regulations and stepping up proactive community policing efforts.
“A leader like Gene leads from the front, meaning that person is often there early and stays late,” Nicklas said. “And Gene was available around the clock and still is. He didn’t want to muscle away the chain of command.”
Nicklas said Lowery was instrumental in the creation of what is known as Camp Power, a summer camp created in 2014 specifically for children living in University Village. Kids can play games, eat lunch and engage in interactive activities with police officers through the day camp. The camp was founded by the police department’s Youth in Need Task Force to reduce juvenile crime in the area.
“He thought it was very important to forge a comfort and confidence between our police force and the residents and businesses that are served,” Nicklas said. “He thought a good way to do that was to humanize, make people who are wearing the uniform appear as human as they really are.”
For Lowery, community policing is really just about connecting to people, Nicklas said.
“He brought a lot of meaning to that by showing this is how you engage people,” Nicklas said. “You do it face to face, over coffee or lunch, in the street at two in the morning, during the day in front of a formal gathering.”
Lowery was hired in May 2012, after serving 21 years with the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office and retiring there as undersheriff. Before coming to DeKalb, Lowery spent two years as deputy chief of police at the Crystal Lake Police Department. From 1979 to 1989, he worked at the Ottawa Police Department.
He holds a master’s in law enforcement administration from Western Illinois University and completed two sessions at the FBI Academy: one in 1999, and the other, the Law Enforcement Executive Development Program, in 2006.
He was the recipient of the 2013 DeKalb County Partnership for a Substance Abuse Free Environment Agency Award for Excellence.