End of an era as Kelley retires as sheriff

Dan Kelley stands outside the Monroe County Jail on Friday. (Corey Saathoff photo)

This is Monroe County Sheriff Dan Kelley’s final week on the job as he retires Nov. 30 after 32 years in office.

Neal Rohlfing will become the county’s new sheriff following a swearing in ceremony at the courthouse on Dec. 1.

Monroe County ranked among the safest counties in all of Illinois during much of his tenure, and Kelley earned the respect of many for his approachability within the community.

Kelley is a lifelong Monroe County resident, growing up near Tipton. A 1966 graduate of Ss. Peter & Paul School in Waterloo, Kelley entered the Air Force in 1966 and served in the Vietnam War.

After his military service ended in 1970, Kelley took classes at Belleville Area College and worked at Liefer’s Garage while also farming.

In the spring of 1974, Kelley was hired as a part-time deputy by Sheriff Bill Smith. In 1977, Kelley was hired full-time by the Waterloo Police Departmentment.

He served under Waterloo Police Chief Keith Branson until 1982, when he was elected sheriff.

Kelley ran against William Schmidt for sheriff in 1982 after Pat Brueggemann decided against running for another term in office.

“That was the closest election I ever had,” Kelley said.

As one might expect, Kelley has witnessed many changes in law enforcement over the years.

“It’s phenomenal, the amount of changes we went through,” he said.

Early on, the training of deputies to better prepare cases and testify in court was a focus.

“That helped us to start winning cases,” Kelley said.

Advancements in technology also changed law enforcement for the better. Kelley said his department used to run vehicle registration checks using a “ticker tape” system. Now, that process is much quicker and more effective through the use of computers.

And just within the past couple of years, emergency radio communications were upgraded from a single band to the 800 megahertz system in use today.

The implementation of this new radio system recently garnered an award from the East-West Gateway Council of Governments.

“Each agency can use it and communicate with each other without interference,” Kelley said.

Changes in the prosecution and enforcement of crimes dealing with domestic violence, drugs and driving under the influence were also seen during Kelley’s career.

“When I took office, there was no such thing as domestic violence,” Kelley said.

Having officers assigned to the Metropolitan Enforcement Group of Southwestern Illinois multi-jurisdictional drug task force has also been important.

Among the most memorable cases Kelley said he had been a part of include the arrest of longtime Monroe County Clerk Richard A. Trost for embezzling more than $100,000 from the county in the mid-1990s, and the arrest of Daniel W. Stark Sr. in 2003 on a conspiracy to steal tractors and other farm equipment and sell them in Kentucky.

Both cases went federal and required plenty of manpower from the sheriff’s department.

Kelley said there were 1,500 exhibits admitted into evidence in the Trost case — checks, deposit clips and many other items as part of what was a long paper trail.

“Putting that case together took longer than it did to try it (in court)”, Kelley said.

And while his department did not handle the Chris Coleman murder case, Kelley said the amount of court security provided and extra steps taken by deputies at the courthouse and jail to deal with all of the hoopla were firsts, and hopefully lasts, for the county.

Kelley said his philosophy for law enforcement was pretty simple: “Just take it one day at a time and take time to make good decisions.

We aggressively went after criminals once we found out who they were, and we made it a point to target these people. If you keep letting them run at will, they’ll keep coming back.”

Kelley also had high praise for Monroe County and its citizens as a whole for working with law enforcement and the court system to help keep the community safe by coming forward as witnesses, testifying in court and serving on juries.

“I think we’ve got an extremely good county here in the sense that the citizens get involved,” Kelley said. “That’s what makes a community. If we lose that, we’ll be the same as some of the neighboring communities when it comes to crime.

“Law enforcement has to have the cooperation of the people it protects.”

As for his successor, who he’s known for more than 15 years, Kelley said there will obviously be a learning curve.

“Neal’s a good guy. I think he’s quite capable of learning how to do this job and do it well,” Kelley said. “We’ll make the transition as smooth as we can.”

The key to being a good sheriff, Kelley said, is communication. “You’ve got to be able to talk to people to succeed at this job,” he said.

In retirement, the 66-year-old Kelley said he plans to stay busy. He serves as trustee on a farm trust and has a 3-year-old grandson he will be spending plenty of time with.

“It’ll be nice to be able to do some stuff at home that I need to catch up on,” Kelley said. “There’s always something to do.”

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