McHenry officer took a different path into policing: He began his career as a social worker

Officer Klasek spent almost a decade in social work before becoming a cop

McHenry Police officer Robert Klasek outside the department on Tuesday, April 16, 2024.

When Robert “Bob” Klasek became a police officer, he wasn’t necessarily looking for a career in law enforcement – he already had a job.

With a degree from Northern Illinois University in sociology and a minor in Southeast Asian studies, Klasek used that training to work as a community case manager and then to write behavioral plans for clients and training staff members to use those plans. Later, he managed behavioral-based group homes, some of which were in McHenry. But with a family to provide for and the low pay associated with social work, he needed to do more.

“I love social work ... but I was passively looking” for a new career when a friend was hired on at the McHenry Police Department and talked it up to him. So at age 29 – on the older end for most entering the field – he was hired.

In the 14 years since then, Klasek has been in several speciality positions, including on the peer support team and as an evidence technician, a public affairs officer, a car seat technician and a field training officer, helping young officers learn their new roles.

We 100% need to be seen and develop relations.”

—  Bob Klasek, McHenry police officer

What he learned with that sociology degree, and what has translated to his career in policing, is how the people he comes in contact with “manifest mental health issues just living their lives,” Klasek said. As an officer, he also uses that background in a similar way – “helping people to go in the right direction.”

Responding to criminal offenses is only one aspect of modern policing, Klasek said. On a lot of calls, “it is mental health, and health and safety issues, that they need help with.”

He’s taken that mindset into his work as a field training officer – sometimes un-training officersfrom what movies and TV told them the job was.

“When [subjects] are acting strange, take a step back. Ask what is their history, what are they saying, what is the issue and how can I help?” Klasek said.

He often talks to new officers about the five types of mental and physical health as he was taught in his college courses – physical, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual.

“Those are all different types of health and wellness and in every one of those categories, has strengths and weaknesses,” Klasek said. “See where they need help and how you can help them.”

McHenry might not be the largest police department around, but Klasek said that because he grew up in town, “I know the town like the back of my hand. Everywhere I go I have some experience or memory. I still see people I know all of the time ... or who I went to school with.”

But even with that familiarity, the fact that every day as an officer is different, and that at the end of the day he might be helping someone, is part of what he loves about the job.

“I love not knowing what is going to happen every day. It is just cool to experience different things,” he said. “We 100% need to be seen and develop relations. If people only have negative interactions with police – no one wants that.”

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