WEST TOWN — After 31 years, Sgt. Juan Clas is retiring from the police force and from leading the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy [CAPS] program in the Near West District — a position which was supposed to have been temporary some 16 years ago.
"In 2001, I was asked if I could take over the CAPS program for a while until they found someone," Clas said on Friday.
After the Wood Street District (13th) was consolidated into the 12th [Near West District] five years ago, Clas continued at the job, going from overseeing nine community policing beats to 15 in the new, larger district.
Known for his humor, empathy and listening ear at countless Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) meetings, Clas' final day on the force will be Saturday.
He will be succeeded in the Community Policing Sergeant role by Sgt. Christopher Schenk, who most recently worked in the Near North (18th) District.
Clas' grandfather was a police captain in Mexico and Clas says he knew from the age of 5 he wanted to follow in his grandfather's path and protect the public, too.
"I wanted to be a police officer my whole life. At this point, I've spent more of my life as an an officer than as a civilian," Clas, 57, said.
Born in Pilsen, Clas grew up in Little Village and as a teen moved to Cicero with his family, where he graduated from Morton East High School. He moved back to Chicago and entered the Chicago Police Academy.
Clas' first day as a police officer was June 16, 1986. He started out in the Ogden (10th) District before getting transferred to Harrison (11th), Wood Street (13th) and ending his career in the Near West District.
"It's been a fun time. I've met a lot of people and had a lot of interactions, helping a lot of people," Clas said.
Clas said most people assume his job is "all about writing tickets or arresting bad guys," but in actuality many of the duties the community policing department performs relate to facilitating bimonthly meetings for each of the 15 neighborhood "beats" in the sprawling district, youth outreach and putting together domestic violence programs, among other things.
Recently, a few youths that had participated in the Chicago Police Department's Explorers program and whom were mentored by Clas and fellow officers, graduated from college.
"It's a good feeling to see that," said Clas, who has a doctorate degree in organizational leadership from Argosy University.
In June, Our Urban Times reported on a farewell party for Clas, held at the end of a "Beat 1212" meeting.
"I have met a lot of great, good people who I've tried to help whereever I can. And my staff of young officers here and in 13 [former district that merged with Near West District] have always been great in working with residents," Clas told Our Urban Times.
Kim Shepherd, a volunteer beat facilitator and West Town resident, has worked with Clas for 9 years.
"Sgt. Clas took a position that was supposed to temporary and turned it into his own. He leveraged his experience as a great street cop and his lighthearted demeanor to engage, inform and assist residents of the 13th and 12th Districts. He will be missed," Shepherd said in an email on Friday.
Members of the West Loop Community Organization included their well wishes for Clas in an e-newsletter on Friday.
"We wish you nothing but the best! Safe travels and don't forget to send pictures of the Bass you'll be catching!
Clas said he does plan to do some fishing in retirement, as well ride his 2003 Harley Davidson motorcycle (he's a member of a law enforcement cycling club) and tinker with his orange and rust-colored 1949 Ford Deluxe classic car.
To those just starting out as police officers, Clas advised, "If this is what you love to do, stick with it. Rely on the people around you to help you and look at the big picture, for yourself and for what you can do for your community."