‘This is what I was meant to do’: Paulus resurfaces as police chief in Island Lake

Paulus was sworn in Thursday after break in long law enforcement career

Island Lake Mayor Richard McLaughlin swears in Jennifer Paulus as the new police chief.

After a break in a long career in law enforcement, Jennifer Paulus has resurfaced as the new police chief in Island Lake.

Paulus was sworn in Thursday to lead the small village department upon the retirement of former Bartlett police Chief Dan Palmer, who came to Island Lake on an interim basis and stayed 4½years.

Mayor Richard McLaughlin said Paulus was chosen from among 21 applicants. She signed a two-year contract at $130,000 a year.

“Her longevity as Hawthorn Woods chief, her connection to the Island Lake community and her enthusiasm for and dedication to police work made her a good fit for our needs,” he said.

Paulus spent 23 years with the Hawthorn Woods police department, the past 16 years as chief, before retiring in October 2021. The circumstances were unclear, but the village was restructuring the department at the time and hired a director of public safety after Paulus left.

She was put on paid leave from Hawthorn Woods through March 31, 2022. In the interim, Paulus said she did a lot of fishing and became a registered umpire for softball.

“After some reflection and time off, I think this is what I was meant to do,” she said. “I like the idea of being able to engage the community on a more personal level.”

Paulus was the first female police chief in Lake County, the first in Hawthorn Woods and now the first for Island Lake, a community of about 8,000 residents with an authorized police force of 16.

Palmer was hired on an interim basis in September 2018 to replace Anthony Sciarrone, who was put on leave and then fired by the Village Board for poor record-keeping and other flaws.

The interim label was removed about a year later, as Palmer brought stability and professionalism to the department.

“Chief Palmer did a lot of hard work to get us back on track and in a good position to move forward,” Paulus said.

During his tenure, Palmer increased staffing and training, made personnel changes and helped increase morale.

“I never considered myself more than an interim,” said Palmer, who was among the village officials who reviewed the chief candidates. “I was able to turn the department around and am looking forward to Jennifer taking it to the next level.”

Palmer, who recently turned 65, plans to do “grandfather stuff” and join former work colleagues for destination bicycle trips and other activities.

The department had been a revolving door, with 36 employees leaving in the six years before he started, Palmer said. He said he secured support to allow officers to do their jobs and feels the residents’ attitude toward local police has changed for the better.

Paulus described Island Lake as a safe community and isn’t planning any sweeping changes or initiatives, but getting to know the community and its needs are a priority.

“I’ve got to get to know the people and the players and learn how best to serve them,” she said. “Community engagement is high on everybody’s list.”

Mick Zawislak - Daily Herald Media Group

Mick Zawislak has covered Lake County for the Daily Herald since 2002