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'Good public relations, you won't last without them'

Seneca Police Chief Ray Meglan retires, says good will is crucial

Seneca Police Chief Ray Meglan is retiring after 38 years in uniform, 31 of which were as chief. He has presided over a peaceful town, but there were some rough moments.
Seneca Police Chief Ray Meglan is retiring after 38 years in uniform, 31 of which were as chief. He has presided over a peaceful town, but there were some rough moments.

Seneca is something of a Mayberry on the Illinois River.

In keeping with that similarity, retiring Police Chief Ray Meglan has an "Andy Griffith Show" themed clock on his office wall, Andy's image a reminder of the importance of staying in touch with the community.

"The advice I'd give the next chief is to keep up good public relations. You won't last without them," Meglan said

The 65-year-old Meglan's final day on the job will be Friday. His wife, Cindy, is the police department's secretary; she is retiring in August. The couple, who have three children, will then take to their motor home, but will maintain Seneca as their base.

"Oh, I'm not moving. I love this community," Meglan pointed out.

A reception for Meglan is 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Seneca High School, 307 E. Scott St. A new chief could be appointed next week.

Despite Seneca's peacefulness, Meglan landed in a murder investigation soon after joining the department in June 1980.

Meglan recalled he was laid off from Libby-Owens-Ford in Naplate in 1979, then took a job with Ace Mobile Home Sales, where a coworker moonlighted as a part-time Seneca officer. The coworker told him the Seneca force had an opening and Meglan pinned on a badge. The date was June 20, 1980.

Five days later, a Seneca antiques dealer, 76-year-old Marion Knott, was found slain in a field near Interstate 80.

"I had to keep his house under surveillance, in case the killers came back there. There were two guys suspected, but it was never solved," Meglan remembered.

Seneca, with a population of about 2,300, fortunately hasn't had many murders, but Meglan said he had to draw his sidearm several times over the years, usually in response to domestic disturbances that had gotten badly out of hand.

Meglan came close to shooting an agitated man, who was fumbling for a gun inside the man's car, but the man surrendered and Meglan did not have to squeeze the trigger. The man and his father later thanked Meglan for not shooting, Meglan recalled.

The only times Meglan ever fired in the line of duty was to put down dying or dangerous animals.

Meglan had one notable encounter of a different sort. Keith Mackowiak, who later killed two elderly people in rural Seneca, once threatened Meglan with a chainsaw, before being taken into custody.

A little more than a year after putting on the uniform in 1980, Meglan went full time and in 1987, made chief.

Changes over the decades? Meglan said there's more crime, drugs, laws, paperwork and state mandates, but less respect for police from certain quarters of the public — again, reason for him why it's key to always listen to and interact with citizens.

Meglan has overseen a department of five full-time and 17 part-time officers, and served under eight mayors. Not many police chiefs spend three decades in office. And Meglan said he would have liked to stay longer, but wants to do some traveling while he's young enough. His parting thoughts on the job? "I will miss it."

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