Originally Posted Online: Feb. 07, 2010, 8:25 pm
Last Updated: Feb. 07, 2010, 11:09 pm

A rookie cop's life: Learning the ropes, awaiting a nickname

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By Seth Kabala, seth@sethkabala.com

John Vanhyning is Silvis's newest police officer. (Photo by Seth Kabala)
SILVIS He sits alertly in the chief's office. His uniform is spotless. His hands rest near his duty belt. Fluorescent light casts shadows over his chiseled features and reflects off badge number 534.

Though it's the end of his overnight shift, 24-year-old rookie officer John Vanhyning's blue eyes are watchful, not fatigued. He looks the part, but more importantly, he's living the part of Silvis' newest police officer.

Becoming a cop

After graduating from Geneseo High School, where he competed in wrestling, Mr. Vanhyning considered studying to become a physical education teacher, but the law enforcement bug bit.

"I did some ride-alongs after high-school and found out I really liked it," Officer Vanhyning says.

He enrolled at Black Hawk College that fall, completing his studies at Kaplan College in 2006 with an associate's degree in criminal justice.

After a hiring commission confirmed his aptitude for police work, the next stop was the police training institute in Champaign for an intensive 12-week program.

"They role-play domestics. They roll-play traffic stops," Silvis Police Chief Bill Brasche says of the academy. "They'll run you through simulations of known events that have happened to see what your reactions might be and try and put stress on you in an academy setting to see how you might react in a public setting."

Officer Vanhyning passed all stages of the academy, including a 200-question state certification test at the end. He reported for duty in Silvis as a sworn officer on Dec. 5, 2009.

Moving from the classroom to the field is a smooth transition as Sgt. Troy Myers and officer Todd Winters continue his training by riding with him during his first 14 weeks.

"It really helps when you actually deal with the situation," Officer Vanhyning says.

Applying this training, he has made numerous types of arrests in less than two months, including DUIs, a felony aggravated battery stemming from a bar fight, and a felony aggravated stalking from a soured domestic relationship.

The stalking case threw Officer Vanhyning headlong into a situation full of potential danger.

Drama and danger

On the morning of Dec. 14, Mark John Mulvany Jr., 41, of Moline, a man with a history of arrests and convictions going back more than 10 years, stalked a former girlfriend from her place of work to her home in Warren Heights, violating an order of protection. He then hid in a trash bin and confronted her as she went outside for her morning commute.

She texted a key-word to her mother, a pre-arranged signal indicating Mr. Mulvany's presence. Her mother called police, and Officer Vanhyning was dispatched to the scene.

Given the extremes to which Mr. Mulvany went to make contact with his former girlfriend, coupled with his past criminal history, the situation had the potential to become violent, police said.

"That's the kind of person you think is going to resort to violence. And that's what she feared," Chief Brasche says.

Rolling up on the scene, Officer Vanhyning's adrenaline was flowing, his heart banging.

"It's a lot different doing it in training," he said.

Fortunately, the combination of the text-message alert and quick response by police surprised Mr. Mulvany, and Officer Vanhyning made the arrested without incident. Mr. Mulvany had five outstanding warrants against him at the time.

Follow-up done by Silvis detectives led to Mr. Mulvany being charged with aggravated stalking, a Class 3 felony, and violating an order of protection.

Mr. Mulvany pleaded guilty Friday to the aggravated stalking and was sentenced to four years in prison. The other charge was dismissed.

Projecting confidence

Officer Vanhyning projects confidence, the result of the extensive, ongoing training required of all 15 officers on the Silvis force, both new and seasoned. Annual firearm certification ensures that if Officer Vanhyning ever has to draw and fire one of the 13 rounds in his Springfield XD .40 semiautomatic handgun, he'll hit his target. Should a foot pursuit be necessary, his regular workouts at Anytime Fitness will provide the necessary stamina to chase down his quarry.

"(The) Illinois Police Training and Standards Board has training units throughout the state," Chief Brasche says. Members of all Illinois police departments can take advantage of classes involving "law reviews, tasers, DUIs, field sobriety trainings, domestic violence trainings. Any class you can think of that may be related to police can come locally."

During field training, Officer Vanhyning must describe scenarios to his training officer and how he would handle them. He is in phase two, where the expectations of situation assessment and handling are tougher. Eventually, he'll ride solo.

Liking a small town

Officer Vanhyning likes working for a smaller department.

"You get to know more of the people you work with. You get to know more of the people in the community know different areas better than working in a bigger city," he said, adding he'd never consider working for a bigger department.

Does he intend to stay with Silvis for the duration?

"Oh, yeah," he says.

"Smaller departments often ask their sworn officers to fill every role," Chief Brasche says. As they set out on their beat, which, in Silvis, is the whole city, officers can jump-start the investigative process.

The goal is to "discover how, whens, whats, whys, wheres, and try to solve it yourself. Do a little detective work. Do a little follow-up. Make an effort to complete that case from start to finish."

Although Officer Vanhyning is eager to be a problem-solver, he wants residents to understand that cops aren't perfect.

"You can't solve every one," he says. "It's not like TV where everything ends the same way."

"Every case doesn't have latent prints, DNA, footwear or tire impressions," Chief Brasche says. "There's no magic cure. In the end, it still comes down to the cop going out knocking on doors."

The chief's expectations

In a "graying" department that is likely to see several retirements over the next five years, Officer Vanhyning will play a key role in protecting Silvis' streets. Above all else, Chief Brasche hopes Officer Vanhyning and future recruits will be defined by being dependable to their co-workers; learning what empathy is; and showing compassion to people in need.

"We see people when they're at their lowest of lows," Chief Brasche said. "When you do those things and people are appreciative, those are what I like to call 'feel good' moments where things have gone well for a day."

For Officer Vanhyning, arresting Mark John Mulvany qualified as a "feel good" moment.

"Arresting that guy ...," he says with a hint of pride, "that lady was obviously scared of him."

Awaiting a nickname

The hazing is still to come. No one has positioned a bucket of cold water above a slightly ajar door.

But he has yet to pass the two-month mark of being on the job, and if the smile in Chief Brasche's voice, as well as on his face, is any indication, the woods of initiation could be looming ahead.

"I haven't heard anybody assign him a nickname yet," Chief Brasche says. "Usually that comes with time. I haven't seen any cartoons on the board yet where he's being made fun of, (but) that'll come, too. Police have a demented sense of humor, there's no doubt about that. Give it time. He'll have something on there."