MONTICELLO — A small-town police officer who rose through the ranks of his department to become deputy chief is being remembered for his sense of humor and the love of his craft.
Richard "Rich" Bowman, 49, of Monticello, died Thursday as a result of complications of a heart attack he suffered about a month earlier.
Mr. Bowman was the deputy chief at the Monticello Police Department, where he had worked 11 years.
Robin Jones, administrative assistant to the chief, said Mr. Bowman's death is a "great loss" to the department, which currently has five full-time and three part-time officers as well as herself and a parking enforcement person.
"If things were going to go down, I would want him on my side. You had no fear when you were with him because you knew he would take care of you," said Jones, who worked directly with Mr. Bowman three years but also for several years before that in her role as a Piatt County correctional officer.
She said Mr. Bowman spoke Spanish and was a great help to her at the jail when Spanish-speaking people came in.
"He was a character, very direct with what he said. He was a joke teller and a great story teller," said Jeff Vercler, a Champaign County sheriff's sergeant who also works part-time at the University of Illinois Police Training Institute, as Mr. Bowman did.
"His primary expertise is the area of control and arrest tactics," said PTI Director Mike Schlosser. "I've worked on the mats with him almost weekly for the last 10 years."
Mr. Bowman's job at PTI was to teach police officer recruits the correct way to physically handle people in custody.
"Since I worked so closely with him, Rich became like a brother to me," Schlosser said. "I knew what he was going to do or say. He knew what I was going to do or say. We were always on the same page. It just made control tactics run smoothly so the recruits could learn."
Schlosser echoed Vercler's observation about Mr. Bowman's sense of humor.
"He has this wonderful, funny personality. He was extremely witty, had a great sense of humor, and he made learning fun for the recruits. Knowing how to talk to people is one of the most important skills you can have in police work. But he knew when things needed to be serious. Recruits would not cross the line with him. Even though they enjoyed his wit and sense of humor, they knew not to cross him. He was a tough guy or a bad dude when he needed to be," Schlosser said.
Mr. Bowman was also a skilled firearms instructor and a scenario-based trainer who received his initial police training at the Illinois State Police Academy.
"He was a great guy. He knew his stuff," said Mahomet Police Chief Mike Metzler, a former PTI administrator who worked closely with Mr. Bowman on the firearms range there for about six years.
"He was a great guy and a good police officer. He always brought a sense of fun to training. He was a quick wit and he was just a fun guy who enjoyed working with recruits and helped bring them along," Metzler said.
Metzler and Schlosser both said Mr. Bowman appeared to take good care of himself so his heart attack came as a surprise to many.
A website set up for a fundraiser for Mr. Bowman's family said that he went to work Aug. 6 experiencing chest pains. He was admitted to Carle Foundation Hospital, where several arteries were found blocked. Before surgery could be done, he suffered a major heart attack that deprived his brain of oxygen, leading to his ultimate death. "He's pretty young for something like this to happen," Metzler said.
Vercler recalled that Mr. Bowman was a bouncer at Bradley's bar in Champaign prior to becoming a police officer. He also served in the Army as a police officer from 1994 to 1996.
"He loved his Harley-Davidson. He loved his Ultimate Fighting Championships, police work, and training new recruits who were excited about the job. It's what he wanted to do his entire life and he absolutely loved being a police officer," Schlosser said.
A motorcycle run from Decatur to Monticello, a pancake breakfast in Monticello and other activities are scheduled for all day Saturday, Oct. 12, to raise money to help his family with medical and living expenses. He leaves behind a wife, Tracy.
For information on those events, go to http://www.rideforrich.com.