A career in law enforcement
By David Blanchette
Jacksonville Police Department Lieutenant Doug Thompson has the job he’s dreamed of since he was a youth.
“I work for probably one of the best departments in the state of Illinois, if not the country,” Thompson said. “We have a group of men and women that go out and do everything they can to keep the community safe. No matter what we do, we treat people with respect and we make sure we put our best foot forward.”
Thompson is the lieutenant in charge of investigations for the department. He’s been on the local force since April 2002, and he can’t imagine doing anything else as a career.
“One of the things I really liked hearing all of the police officers talk about while I was growing up was being able to help people,” Thompson said. “The officers I looked up to went out of their way to try and make sure that everyone was taken care of, and I decided that was something I wanted to do.”
Thompson was born in Rushville and grew up in Beardstown, where he got to know then Cass County Sheriff David Osmer and Schuyler County Sheriff’s Deputy Bob Pherigo. Thompson also liked to visit with Beardstown Police K-9 officer Steve Patterson, who eventually became chief of police in that city, and Thompson hoped one day to become a K-9 officer himself.
Thompson earned a criminal justice degree from MacMurray College and immediately after graduation was hired by the South Jacksonville Police Department, where he worked for South Jacksonville Police Department Chief Richard Evans before he was hired 14 months later by the Jacksonville Police Department. Thompson first worked with Jacksonville Police Chief Don Cook, and was a patrol and bicycle officer.
“I soon realized that I wanted to get into drug work, so I learned who the drug dealers were, where they lived and where our high crime areas were,” Thompson said. “I got really proactive to see if I could help to curb some of the drug selling and use in Jacksonville.”
Thompson’s drug work opened the door for the police department to be eligible for a K-9 unit. After the first Jacksonville K-9 officer left with his dog to work for another police agency, Thompson spearheaded a successful fundraising drive to purchase a new K-9 for the department. Thompson realized another one of his dreams when he was named the department’s new K-9 officer.
“Every day with a K-9 is a challenge and a joy at the same time,” Thompson said. “You take that dog through the academy for 10 weeks and that bond becomes indescribable. That dog will do anything for you with a simple voice or hand command. That’s very, very rewarding.”
Thompson worked his K-9 partner even when they were not out on calls, constantly honing the dog’s skills and responses. On slow nights, Thompson often walked the dog around parked cars so the dog would not automatically think that every car he was asked to sniff contained narcotics.
Thompson remembers an armed robbery he and his K-9 partner worked at a gas station at Sandusky and Walnut streets. The duo found fresh footprints in the snow, and during the ensuing track, the dog located an air soft pistol which was used during the commission of the crime.
“The dog went into a proper down position with the air soft pistol between his paws,” Thompson said. “That’s exactly what he was trained to do, and because of that we ended up finding the suspect, who was later arrested and charged with aggravated robbery.”
Thompson enjoyed going to local schools with his K-9 partner where they interacted with young people who could “see you as a person, they don’t see you as a law enforcement officer,” he said. “They are able to interact with you and just talk to you.”
“My first K-9 was Marco and my daughter was pretty young, maybe eight or nine, and when the dog came home he could interact with her and it was almost like another family member at that point,” Thompson said. “But then when you’d put that collar on him, he knew it was time to go to work and nobody else could talk to him.”
Thompson ended up handling two different police K-9s on the street before he was promoted to sergeant in 2009 and had to reluctantly give the dog to another officer.
“Giving him up was very difficult,” Thompson said. “I talked with my wife about it, we made a conscious decision that my goal was to start moving up in the department so that I could help to mentor younger officers as a supervisor.”
Thompson worked as a patrol sergeant until 2015 when he was promoted patrol lieutenant. Two years later, Jacksonville Police Department Chief Adam Mefford promoted Thompson to oversee investigations, a job he still holds.
Thompson’s two decades in law enforcement have often put him in harm’s way, and he still remembers his closest call that occurred on March 31, 2006.
“I was responding to assist the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department and on my way there I got in a car crash,” Thompson said. “I rolled my squad car three-and-a-half times, and was able to walk away from that pretty much unscathed, just a few scratches.”
Thompson reduces the stress of his job through strong family relationships with his wife Heather, daughter Ashley Williams, son-in-law Chris Williams, and younger sons Talon and Jaxon. Thompson also coaches baseball at Our Saviour Grade School and Routt Catholic High School in Jacksonville.
Thompson has also been very active in the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). He’s the current president of FOP Jacksonville Lodge 125, served on the executive board of the state FOP Labor Council and was an Illinois FOP State Lodge district trustee. Thompson recently received the Illinois FOP State Lodge Fraternalism Award for his eight years as secretary of the statewide board.
Meanwhile, Thompson continues to enjoy being in his dream job, and he’s proud of the men and women with whom he serves.
“I can go home to sleep at night and wake up the next morning knowing our officers that worked the night shift did it the right way,” Thompson said. “We train our officers one hundred percent the right way, we make sure our officers are taken care of, and we make sure the community is also taken care of. Our administration does a good job of balancing both.”