Buncich names Eaton to chief of police post
May 31, 2017
A two-decade veteran of the Lake County Sheriff's Department has been selected as the new chief of police, filling a position left vacant when the former chief resigned and pleaded guilty to a corruption charge.
Commander Dennis Matthew Eaton takes over as chief of police for the Lake County Sheriff's Department, effective Thursday.
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich lauded Eaton's investigative skills in appointing him to the post.
"During his service with the Lake County Sheriff's Department, Commander Eaton has implemented effective management and innovative procedures, which have resulted in a significant increase in felony case filings," Buncich said.
Eaton is the commander of the criminal investigations division, after previously serving in the detective's bureau, gang unit, narcotics unit, K-9 unit and patrol division, according to the department. As commander, Eaton oversaw a number of investigative units including the detective bureau, crime scene investigation unit and auto theft unit. He was named the 2011 Lake County Officer of the Year.
He attended the Northwest Indiana Law Enforcement Academy and joined the Lake County Sheriff's Department in 1997, according to the department. He graduated from the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command in 2012 and is pursuing an education in security management from American Military University.
The new chief and second generation sheriff's department officer said he was humbled and overwhelmed at the chance to lead the department where he has worked for so long.
"I'm second generation here. It's a big deal to me and to my family," Eaton said.
Eaton said the department has a good command staff and has been moving collectively as a team.
"Overall, we are following a pretty solid game plan," Eaton said. "Of course, you always look for improvement measures and try and improve customers service and crime prevention," he said.
Eaton will fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Timothy Downs, who resigned as chief in December after pleading guilty to federal charges he cooperated to solicit bribes from tow operators for favorable treatment. Downs' resignation from the department was a part of the plea agreement.
Downs said he sold fundraising tickets to tow truck operators, according to court documents, and took both cash payments and checks from the businesses.
Buncich, Downs and tow operator William Szarmach, of CSA Towing in Lake Station, were named in a multicount indictment alleging an illegal towing scheme in which the sheriff accepted bribes in the form of thousands of dollars in cash and donations to his campaign fund, Buncich's Boosters, according to court records. All three are facing charges of wire fraud, while Buncich and Szarmach also are charged with bribery.
Buncich and Szarmach pleaded not guilty to the charges. Buncich's trial is scheduled for August.
Eaton said time and continued good customer service from the department's officers will be important to restoring any faith that has been lost in the department as a results of the charges.
"I think collectively as we police ourselves and are providing good service ... I hope over time that will serve to restore some confidence," Eaton said.