Once a 'lofty goal,' Arlington Heights officer rises through ranks to become chief
Nicholas Pecora joined the Arlington Heights Police Department in 1982 as a public service officer and has risen through the ranks, culminating in his swearing-in Monday as the sixth police chief in the village's history.
But he's already had to hit the ground running.
Hours after being named acting chief June 7 once longtime Chief Gerald Mourning moved up his retirement date, Pecora was at the crime scene of a double homicide. Then two weeks ago when Village Manager Randy Recklaus gave Pecora the job for good, the Secret Service was calling to begin preparations for a visit from Bill and Hillary Clinton later that week.
"There was a lot going on here. A lot more than your average summer in Arlington Heights," said Pecora, in an interview ahead of his formal installation during a village board meeting Monday night. "As I told the interview panels and Randy in particular, you couldn't have picked a better exercise to see if somebody was ready for the challenge."
So after rounds of interviews and a vetting of 30 internal and external candidates, Recklaus decided to promote Pecora to the $171,000-a-year job, overseeing a force of 110 sworn offices and 30 support staff members responsible for police protection in the village. Recklaus said what set Pecora apart was not only his extensive background in law enforcement and knowledge of the community, but his administrative experience in village government.
As deputy chief overseeing the administrative services division for the last decade, Pecora was the department's project manager for the $27.9 million new police headquarters project. He'll now oversee an annual budget of similar size, and says fiscal responsibility is among his priorities as an Arlington Heights resident.
"I'm not an outsider looking in," he told a packed village boardroom Monday night that included family, friends and colleagues. "When I wear the police chief hat, I wear the residents' hat."
Pecora's family moved to Arlington Heights from Chicago in 1968; he enrolled in first grade at Our Lady of the Wayside School, and later graduated from Rolling Meadows High School.
After joining the department as public service officer -- a civilian role that handles noncriminal issues -- Pecora applied to be a police officer in 1984. Even at that time, he told members of the fire and police commission of his aspirational goals in a career in law enforcement.
"I told them I wanted to master each level of policing and one day maybe be the chief of police," Pecora recounted. "One of the commissioners said, 'Young man, that's a pretty lofty goal.' I said, 'Well yes sir, it is, but it's mine.'"
Now that he's got the job at age 57, Pecora says he hopes to complete his career in Arlington Heights.
As chief, he said he wants to maintain the department's stature and the community's low crime and traffic crash rates.
Chief among his priorities is leveraging technology to increase efficiency of the organization -- things like going paperless. It also means putting into service a new $45,000 drone purchased with asset forfeiture funds that can be used to conduct searches over large areas. The device, delivered to the village last week, is being shared by the fire and public works departments.
Pecora has appointed Deputy Chief Nathan Hayes to oversee the police department's administrative services division, and plans to appoint Deputy Chief Mark Recker to handle criminal investigations and community services. Pecora plans to promote someone to the third deputy chief role to oversee the patrol division.