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  • David A.F. Sweet

Police Chief Walldorf Reflects on Changes, Constants Near End of 30-Year Tenure

By David A. F. Sweet Lake Forest Police Chief Karl Walldorf took over the department in 2016, succeeding James Held. He launched his career in 1994 as a patrolman with the Lake Forest Police Department (LFPD) before serving as a detective and as a deputy chief. Last month, Chief Walldorf announced he would be retiring in April. Lake Forest Love recently caught up with the busy head of law enforcement to chat about his 30-year career in town.


"Our department continues to attract, train and retain some truly remarkable people. They are always the most important ingredient in our success," says Chief Walldorf.

Why did you choose a career in law enforcement?


I had a strong interest in law enforcement in high school and college and several friends who shared my interest. What appealed to me was the capacity for law-enforcement officers to make positive contributions to the welfare of others every day. After college, I began testing with local departments. In those days, hundreds or thousands of candidates appeared for each test at departments throughout Chicagoland. I was very fortunate to join Lake Forest when I did.


What are the biggest changes you've seen since you joined the LFPD?


Of course, the first has to be technology. This includes both the technology people use to commit crime and the technology we use to fight it. One of the challenges of working in Lake Forest is our residents are usually at the cutting edge of new trends -- and often the first ones to be victimized by them. We had to work hard over the years to catch up with crimes involving online auction sites, online banking and bill payment, social media, cryptocurrency and others. I’m proud of how our people continued to learn and grow to adapt to these challenges.


The technology we use continues to evolve. From body cameras to a wide array of databases, applications, and software, we’ve incorporated a lot of helpful tech into everyday investigations. Our officers routinely pull evidence from cell phones, computers, camera systems, social media, vehicle black boxes and even from the infotainment systems most new cars come equipped with.


Happily, the incredible support we receive from our community has not changed during my tenure. The constant flow of thank you emails, letters, cards, and food into the station from the people who live and work in Lake Forest is inspirational. And it only seems to increase when times get tougher! During 2020, our residents were literally stuffing our station with letters, food and even flowers. It got us through one of the toughest times for our profession.

What improvements have occurred at the LFPD during your tenure as Chief?


Our members are constantly working on new ways to improve our service to the community. While not every project pans out, our folks have introduced some remarkable innovations in recent years. With the help of the Lake Forest Police Foundation, we rebooted our K9 program after a 20-year hiatus. We transitioned to new digital radios carried on the statewide radio network, which allow us to communicate with hundreds of police and fire organizations at the flip of a switch. We hired our first full-time Social Worker, Lauren Perez, who is reshaping our approach to serving our residents. We joined the Lake County Crisis Outreach and Support Team, which provides improved mental health support to our residents. We brought on board our first Police Chaplain, Pastor Jim Buckman from Faith Lutheran Church, who brings a lifetime of experience as a chaplain for several branches of the U.S. military. We brought new technology online, including body and license plate recognition cameras. And just recently, the Department’s first Police Analyst joined the team.

A photo of Karl Walldorf from his early days with the Lake Forest Police Department.

 How do you build strong relationships between your officers and the community?


When I started with the Department in 1994, we already had a strong tradition of community policing. Over time, our members have continued to innovate new ways of interacting with the people who live and work in Lake Forest. Our goal is to allow as many of our members as possible to network with as many different segments of our community as they can. Whether playing football or hockey with CROYA, having lunch with seniors at Dickinson Hall, hosting residents for our Citizens Police Academy, or having coffee with people around town, building bridges with our stakeholders is crucial to our continued success. Tell us a bit about the Citizens Police Academy you just mentioned. Why is it important?


The primary goal is educating our residents about law enforcement in Lake Forest, Lake County, and Illinois. During the 40 or so hours they spend with us, students meet and talk with around two dozen members of our team. They learn from us, and we learn from them.  We think at the end of the semester, our students learn a great deal about the criminal justice system. Perhaps more importantly, we all develop a much greater appreciation for each other.


What excites you about the LFPD's future?


The potential for a new police station is an exciting project on the LFPD’s radar. The department operates out of the Public Safety Building on Deerpath, which was constructed in the 1960s as a combined facility for the Police and Fire Departments. To maintain the highest level of public safety services, the department needs a new police station designed to accommodate modern police practices, technology, training, and equipment. The City is prioritizing planning for a new police station and beginning to explore how to provide the facilities necessary to support the police department.


Also, despite the many challenges our industry faces, our department continues to attract, train and retain some truly remarkable people. They are always the most important ingredient in our success.


What's one thing the public doesn't know about the LFPD but should?


One thing that seems to surprise people is how interconnected law enforcement is in the Chicagoland area, particularly here in Lake County. Through formal relationships, such as the numerous task forces we have officers on, or informal contacts, such as helping an officer from outside of town contact a witness in Lake Forest, suburban law enforcement is really a team event. Few days pass without us cooperating with one or more agencies to make both our communities safer. 


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