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Smudzinski named La Salle police chief

La Salle has a new police chief – the city’s first in 16 years.

Monday, the La Salle City Council voted unanimously to accept, with regret, the retirement of Rob Uranich as chief of police, effective July 15. In a second unanimous vote, the council install Lt. Mike Smudzinski as police chief, effective July 15.

Mayor Jeff Grove heaped praise on both longtime members of the police department, marveling in particular at Uranich’s nearly 31 years of service – unheard of, he said, “especially in this profession.”

“He makes sure things get done and there’s no predetermined agenda. He just makes sure the job gets done,” Grove said, noting in particular how insistent Uranich was in ensuring his department was well-equipped. “Rob, thank you.”

Alderman T. “Boo” Herndon echoed the mayor's thanks.

“On a professional level, I’ve never met a more outstanding man in my life,” Herndon said.

As for Smudzinski, Grove said, “There was no doubt in my mind that Mike would be the man for this job.”

The new chief was born and raised in La Salle and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Illinois State University. Smudzinski began his law enforcement career in June 1995 with the Oglesby Police Department but joined the La Salle force two year later, hired by then-chief Tom Kramarsic.

Smudzinski spent his first seven years with La Salle on patrol before moving to investigations, his current assignment, in 2004. He resides in La Salle with his wife, Michele, and their two daughters. He will be sworn in at the next City Council meeting.

Smudzinski said he was “shocked” by Grove’s nomination but said Uranich prepared him well for the challenges ahead.

“It’s unchartered waters right now, but without those guys in the hallway, I couldn’t get anything done,” Smudzinski said, adding later, “I’ve got big shoes to fill.”

Uranich previously stated his retirement was dictated solely by the pension system and not by recent events that have cast law enforcement in a difficult lot. Uranich said he is approaching his 55th birthday and 31st year of service, and passing those twin milestones would, under complex pension rules, leave him with reduced benefits.

However matter-of-fact his retirement, Uranich looked emotional while rising to a standing ovation by the City Council and a spectator gallery packed with his officers – “The job they do is incredible,” he said – and family and well-wishers.

“I’d just like to say how much I enjoyed working with all of you,” Uranich said.

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