When Dominic Panico looks back on all the experience that led up to him being named interim police chief of Elmhurst last year, the one he recalls most fondly was his stint as a D.A.R.E. instructor between 1987 and 1996.
“Out of all the opportunities I’ve had here in Elmhurst, one of the most rewarding was getting the chance to interact with fifth graders and have a positive impact on their lives,” he explains.
Years later, one of those fifth graders, then a junior in college, visited the police department to say hello to Panico, thank him for the mentoring and assure him that he remembered all of the lessons Panico had taught him. “You may not think you have an impact on young people, but in reality, you do,” he says.
Panico knew that he wanted to be a police officer from an early age. “I can’t think of any one particular reason why,” he says. “It’s just something that I felt I had a passion for and an interest in. It’s something that never really left me.”
He attributes that passion to the ethics his parents, aunts and uncles instilled in him while he was growing up. The principles of responsibility, fairness, compassion and integrity, and the importance of helping others and giving back, were the foundation of his family’s values. “And you need all of those qualities to become a good police officer,” Panico says. “It all fits.”
After graduating from Western Illinois University with a degree in law enforcement and administration, he fulfilled his dream of becoming a police officer when he joined the Elmhurst force in 1981.
In addition to his tour of duty in the D.A.R.E. program, Panico also served as a crime prevention officer, honor guard, emergency response team member, crisis negotiator, and field-training officer. In 1990, he and a fellow officer launched a community policing program that’s still going strong.
Since then, he was promoted to a sergeant of the Patrol Division in 1994, reassigned to administrative sergeant in 1998, promoted to deputy chief in 2004, and appointed interim police chief in December of 2011. “Each opportunity has new challenges to grow and learn,” he explains. “It’s important to continue to adapt to these challenges to benefit your community.”
Panico has his share of awards and honors, but there’s something he prizes even more. “I could pull out my drawer of commendations but it’s the little ‘thank yous’ you receive that bring the most gratification,” he says. “It’s nice to be recognized by the department, but it’s the day-to-day interactions that are most gratifying.
“There’s a quote that I believe sums up the profession best, and it goes, ‘If you do this job properly, there’s nothing more noble that you will do with your life,’ and I strongly believe that,” Panico says. “I’ve had a very rewarding career. It’s not a job, it’s a passion. And there’s nothing about my journey I would do differently. It all led me to where I am now.”