Navy sailors who serve on newly constructed ships are called “plank owners.” When they leave that ship for the final time, whatever their rank, they’re formally announced and saluted as they’re “piped off” the ship.

The Oak Park police department’s last plank owner will soon be piped off. In January Deputy Chief Bob Scianna retires after 35 years of service. Scianna joined the force in 1972, and is the last officer to have served at the old police station on Lake Street before moving to the current headquarters.

Now he’s working to come to terms with the impending conclusion of a career spent doing a job “I love more than I can express.”

Both former chief Joe Mendrick and current chief Rick Tanksley say Scianna is a professional who took his assignments seriously.

Tanksley lauded the man who was one of his training officers when he came on the force in 1984 as “someone who once he gets an assignment, he goes out and gets it done.”

“He was a policeman’s policeman,” said Mendrick.

“He’s been one of my right hands at least the past four years,” Tanksley said of Scianna. During most of that time, the Oak Park force was undergoing a rapid turnover as over half the department’s 123 cops retired. At one point Scianna was Tanksley’s only deputy chief on a short handed department.

“I’m going to miss his hard work and counsel,” said Tanksley.

Scianna most identifies with being a detective and was never more satisfied than when he was puzzling things out, making an arrest and getting a conviction.

“Scianna is a terrific investigator and an excellent tactical guy,” said Mendrick, “a very tactical planner.”

Days after the Columbine school massacre Mendrick assigned Scianna the task of developing a comprehensive emergency deployment response in the event of a similar attack on Oak Park’s numerous schools. To do so, Scianna worked with the state police, the school districts and other agencies for months.

“We were the first department in the state after Columbine to have a response plan,” said Mendrick. “The state police are still using a lot of the elements they developed with Bob.”

Mendrick thought he’d be good at another task as well, though perhaps not as enthusiastic … at first. He made Scianna an offer he couldn’t refuse back in 1992- he’d be the new Detective Commander and the new media liaison officer.

“I reasoned he had the most knowledge and could give the media the best answers,” Mendrick said. He informed Scianna, “You can’t have one without the other.”

“He knew I’d never turn that down,” Scianna said with a grin.

Scianna mentions two very different occurrences that he feels captures what he loved about being the police. The afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 11, 1985 police responded to a domestic disturbance call in an apartment on Austin Boulevard. They were confronted by an angry 6 foot, 1 inch, 250 pound man who refused to leave his father’s home. The man reached into a closet and pulled out a sawed off shotgun as the officers drew their weapons and radioed for back-up.

Scianna, then a Sergeant, rushed to the scene, arriving as the man threatened the cops as he attempted to leave. Scianna rushed the man along with the three others cops. When it was over Scianna stood holding a cocked 12 gauge shotgun in his hands and his three colleagues had the man in handcuffs.

His second year on the force, Scianna was driving by a park when he spotted a distraught little boy crying because his balloon had gotten away from him and snagged high on a softball backstop. Scianna walked over, climbed onto the back of the structure, retrieved the treasure and handed it to the boy.

“Thanks, mister,” the boy said through a broad smile as he beamed up at Scianna.

“I don’t know what it was about that, helping this little kid get his balloon back,” he said, wiping a speck of dust from his eye. “I’ve never forgotten that.”

Asked if he has any regrets, Scianna looked over at a typed list and pushed it toward a reporter, saying, “These are my regrets. Ten unsolved murders on my watch. I wish we could have solved these.”

That will now be up to the detectives he leaves behind, people, he said, in whom he has all the faith in the world.

“I expect in my retirement that I’ll get a phone call saying, ‘Boss, we solved it.'”

Besides the job, what he’ll miss is Oak Park itself.

“How much I owe the people of this town,” he said. “I gave them everything I had and they rewarded me. They gave me the opportunity to live the American Dream.”

‘There’s a side of me people don’t know.’

It’s a dream still unfolding for Scianna, with as much to look forward to as to look back on. Three grown children, grandchildren (“I cherish every second with my grandkids”), his wife Debbie, whom he met in high school, a garden to tend, cooking to do, books to read.

“I love cooking, and I love tending to my flowers,” he said, sitting back and laughing. “They both relax me. Strange, huh?”

And books.

“I’m an avid reader,” he said. “If you lay it down somewhere, I’m going to pick it up and read it.”

Still, blue doesn’t fade quickly, and Scianna knows the joys of his new life won’t totally fill the void.

“I have mixed emotions,” he said, tapping his pen on his desk as his face tightened just a bit.

“I love this job. I’m going to miss it dearly.”

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