Former Elgin, South Barrington police chief Charles Gruber remembered as being ahead of his time

Former Elgin Police Chief Charles Gruber is remembered as being ahead of his time in implementing the community policing approach that now is front and center in law enforcement.

Gruber, who also was police chief in South Barrington, died Monday. He was 74.

He spent more than four decades in law enforcement, starting as an officer in Addison after serving in the Marine Corps from 1964 to 1968. In 1976, he moved to Quincy to become the youngest police chief in the state. He served as Shreveport, Louisiana's chief from 1987 to 1990, returning to Illinois to take over as Elgin's chief in 1990, where he stayed until retiring in 1998. In 1999, he took his final job as a chief, working in South Barrington until 2008.

Former Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said Gruber had a guiding role in his career.

"He was the chief that swore me in, and then he was there when I was sworn in as chief and when I retired as well," Swoboda said.

They remained close, he said, texting often and as recently as about a week ago.

Swoboda said Gruber "was definitely ahead of his time" when it came to community policing and working to solve problems rather than only responding to incidents.

"He was the one who instilled in me that the community is our boss, and it's all about the community," Swoboda said.

Elgin's current police chief, Ana Lalley, was hired under Gruber in 1996.

"I will always appreciate and remember his vision for the Resident Officer Program which is still in place today," Lalley said in a statement.

Gruber and his deputy chief at the time came up with the program in which an officer lives and works in a distressed neighborhood with the hope police will be the stimulus that empowers residents to take ownership and solve problems. Swoboda was one of the department's first ROPE officers.

"It was an amazing idea," Swoboda said. His orders from Gruber were: "Improve the quality of life. If it's crime, if it's noise, if it's kids needing something, work on that. Improve the quality of life in the neighborhood."

Swoboda said the lessons he learned from Gruber served him in Elgin and now as police chief of Fort Collins, Colorado.

"He would always say, 'You might have an office in the police station, but your job is in the community,'" Swoboda said. "When you get the community on your side, there's nothing you can't accomplish."

Gruber took over as chief as Elgin was in the middle of a serious gang and crime problem, Swoboda said.

"There were national news stories about gangs in Elgin," he said. "I've heard from some very respected people who told me that Chuck Gruber, with his idea of community policing, is what turned around the police department."

Elgin could have gone two different ways in the '90s, Swoboda said, "and the way we've driven down crime and put processes and systems into practice, that even today continue to reduce crime, that is in large part attributed to Chuck Gruber."

Gruber is survived by his wife, Linda, to whom he had been married for 51 years, their three children and three granddaughters, and four siblings.

Visitation is will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Laird Funeral Home, 310 South State St. in Elgin. A funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Patrick's Church on Crane Road in St. Charles. Entombment will follow at St. Michaels Cemetery in Wheaton. St. Patrick's asks that those interested in attending the funeral register at

Elgin Police Chief Charles Gruber in 1998. Daily Herald File Photo
South Barrington Police Chief Charles Gruber in 2008.
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