Under the radar

Randy Leng is the new St. Joseph Township chief of police. Leng previously earned an associate’s degree in law enforcement from Lake Michigan College and graduated from the police academy at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. 

After serving as a St. Joseph Township police officer for close to 35 years, Randy Leng was a natural choice to become the township’s new police chief. 

Leng grew up in Benton Township, graduated from Michigan Lutheran High School, earned an associate degree in law enforcement from Lake Michigan College and graduated from the police academy at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

He was sent there by Paul Bailey, now Berrien County sheriff. Bailey was chief of the Stevensville Police Department when there was one, and put Leng to work there. 

After a couple of years, Leng joined the St. Joseph Township Police Department part-time and, after nine months, became full-time in May 1985. He was promoted to sergeant in December 1988 and to lieutenant in January 2001, and became chief April 1 following the retirement of Ross Bates. 

Richard Knapp has replaced Leng as lieutenant, and Michael Lanier has been promoted to sergeant. 

Leng likes to work quietly under the radar, so convincing him to sit down with Herald-Palladium Staff Writer Julie Swidwa to talk about himself and his career was no easy task. 

Did you aspire to be chief?

Yes, that’s where I wanted to end my career. Its always good to try to climb as far as you can go.

What do you like best about police work?

It’s got a lot of challenges. I’ve always liked the administrative side, and I guess the investigations. For some reason in St. Joe Township when we have a major crime, there’s always a twist. It seems like every homicide we’ve had, and thank goodness we don’t have many, but with every homicide we’ve had in this township there’s a twist.

So, trying to get to the nuts and bolts of the investigation for me is the most exciting part of it. Trying to put the pieces together. I love digging into an investigation. That’s the highlight of what I like to do is the investigations.

Did you come into the chief’s position with some goals in mind?

You know, I was the lieutenant first so I worked with Ross for more years than I can remember. I’ve been a part of the chain of command forever, so any changes we’ve made I’ve been a part of, so there are no major changes that we are initiating or looking at doing at all.

We did promote both a lieutenant and a sergeant when I was promoted. When I was the lieutenant, there was no sergeant, and when I was the sergeant, there was no lieutenant. We’ve only ever had a chief and one command person, so this is a little different. But it’s a good thing. I’ve been the only command staff besides the chief of police until now. It was the board’s decision to add a command position.

I ask every cop that I interview – do you watch cop shows on TV and if so, are there any that are realistic?

I only really watch one. It’s called “Forensic Files.” That is actually based on real cases that have been solved through forensics. And I like watching that because you can pick stuff up in some of your own investigations. You can get an idea maybe this is a good way to go, or that’s a good way to go. But to watch a crime show like “Blue Bloods” or “Chicago PD,” I do not watch that stuff.

I watch “Forensic Files” for purely the technology that’s involved in some of the cases. How they can come across a hair, one hair in a car, and that can solve a case. I love that type of technology and what goes into solving crimes.

Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would want people to know about you?

No. I told you before, I kind of fly under the radar. We get the job done here, but we don’t do it with a lot of hoopla, and that’s the way I like it. I don’t do a lot of interviews. On major crimes, naturally we’ll be there. We’ll give you guys whatever you need.

But other than that, you probably wont be hearing from me much because that’s just not what I do. I’ll see you every month at the board meeting so we can always chat. But I fly under the radar. I don’t believe in being out in the public eye. The sheriff is a political position. He has to be. This is not. My main concern is the citizens of St. Joe Township, making sure we have the best police department we can give them, and that’s what I intend to do.

Contact: jswidwa@TheHP.com, 932-0359, Twitter: @HPSwidwa