Wauconda police sergeant honored as Illinois' Officer of the Year
Wauconda police Sgt. Sean Lewakowski has caught bad guys, saved lives and spent countless hours with local kids as part of a departmental outreach program.
Police Chief David Wermes calls Lewakowski a model officer, one "any community would be proud to call their own."
Lewakowski, a 16-year veteran of the department, was honored Saturday in a ceremony at the American Legion Post 911 hall in Wauconda.
He described the accolade as "humbling."
"We don't do it for the glory, that's for sure," said Lewakowski, 36, of McHenry. "But it's nice to be recognized once in a while."
Lewakowski joined the department in 2001 as a dispatcher. He became a patrol officer in 2005.
"(I decided) the other end of the radio is where I wanted to be," said Lewakowski, who was promoted to sergeant this past June.
Wermes nominated Lewakowski for the American Legion award based on his service in 2016. Notable actions included using a naloxone injection to save the life of a woman who had overdosed on heroin.
Lewakowski also nabbed a thief responsible for a spate of late-night car burglaries.
In that case, Lewakowski tracked footprints in fresh snow leading from a burglarized car to a house several blocks away. The suspect jumped out a second-story window and fled, but Lewakowski chased and captured him.
"(He) worked tirelessly, in weather conditions that were less than ideal, and pursued the offender until he was arrested," Wermes wrote in his nomination letter to the American Legion.
For Lewakowski, though, those heroics aren't nearly as important as the time he spends playing basketball, floor hockey, laser tag and other games with local youths in the Wauconda Park District's monthly Kids vs. Cops program, which he helps organize. Lewakowski believes it's important to show the kids that police officers don't just write tickets or arrest people -- that they're part of the community, too.
"To me, that's police work," he said. "That's why I do my job."
Kids vs. Cops participation has grown from six to 25 kids in the three years Lewakowski has helped organize it, said Sara Schuring, the park district's recreational supervisor. Schuring said Lewakowski is enthusiastic about playing with the kids and encourages them to succeed.
"Sean is phenomenal," Schuring said.
In a much more somber duty, Lewakowski volunteered to represent the department at the funerals of the Dallas police officers who were ambushed by a gunman in July 2016. He represented the department in a ceremony at the Illinois Police Officers Memorial in Springfield, too.
"Officer Lewakowski has dedicated himself to serving the community as both a law enforcement officer and a steward to the community," Wermes said.
Lewakowski modestly shrugs off that kind of praise.
"I'm just kind of doing my job," he said.
The American Legion is one of several groups and government agencies that celebrate exemplary police work with Officer of the Year prizes. Others include the Fraternal Order of Police, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the U.S. Justice Department.
Officers from across Illinois were nominated for the American Legion award, said Bill Geary, secretary of Wauconda's American Legion post.
Lewakowski now is entered in the American Legion's National Officer of the Year contest. The winner will be lauded at next year's national American Legion convention in Minneapolis.