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Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008 08:20 am

Southern View police pick up female fugitive

Former Springfield officer Lea Joy likes being ‘wanted’ LAW 

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Retired SPD Lt. Lea Joy now works with Southern View Police Chief Kurt Taraba (center) and Sgt. Ricky Cathers (right).
PHOTO BY DUSTY RHODES

As chief of police in the village of Southern View, Kurt Taraba sometimes has to get creative to track down a wanted person. Take, for example, a certain 60-year-old black female who had a reputation for causing trouble in the city of Springfield. Taraba bumped into her at the Dollar General store and again at the Ice Deli but couldn’t collar her. Finally, he had a buddy in another agency place a call to her cell phone warning her that Taraba was on her trail. A few days later, the wanted woman showed up at the Southern View city hall and voluntarily turned herself in. And she has been at SVPD ever since.

Taraba, see, hunted down retired Springfield Police Lt. Lea Joy, not because she had committed any crime, but because he needed someone with age, experience, and the “right mindset” to join his small but ambitious department. He hired Joy in September and put her in charge of investigations.

“All I wanted to know was: is she willing to share the same passions that I have, and is she willing to help us put this thing together to be a good example of what a small-town police department is supposed to be,” he says. “And she has that desire.”

Joy was the first African-American female ever hired by the Springfield Police Department. In her 21 years there, she developed a reputation for questioning her fellow officers and her superiors. In 2002, at a special city council meeting called to probe an incident involving a rookie she had mentored, Joy even questioned then-chief John Harris.

Her style didn’t endear her to her fellow officers. Earlier this year, as one of two plaintiffs in a race discrimination lawsuit against SPD, Joy sat in a courtroom and listened to her former co-workers swear from the witness stand that any discrimination she suffered had nothing to do with her race but rather with her attitude [see “Pure Joy,” Jan. 24, 2008]. The jury awarded her no compensation. The fact that SVPD Chief Taraba subsequently tracked her down and recruited her to his department shocked Joy.

“He looked me up!” she says. “And you know he had to have guts, with my reputation.”

Taraba, 66, who was an SPD officer himself from 1972 through 1979, is familiar with Joy’s reputation. Not only does it not bother him; it’s one of the main reasons he hired her.

“I value her opinions that she gives me from time to time. I don’t want people here who are sycophants,” he says. “I share my thoughts with her and she’ll come back and pick them apart. I like that. I . . . don’t want to get tunnel vision and not see the things I need to see. I need somebody to tell me the truth.”

He and Joy share a devotion to community-oriented policing, and Taraba takes it so far as to personally perform crossing guard duty at the Southern View Elementary School twice a day every day. He expects all his officers to be on first-name basis with the residents of Southern View.

“We’re not just police officers, we’re social workers, we help start lawn mowers, we remove things that are lying in the street, we can be father confessor, marriage counselors, sometimes father or mother to kids that are confused or misguided. You name it, we do it all,” he says.

Joy’s new job includes reviewing reports and conducting whatever investigation is needed to prepare cases for prosecution. Lately, she’s been spending much of her time on cases involving identity theft. She’s also the 10-person department’s liaison to Neighborhood Watch, and she makes presentations at schools. She gets to set her own hours and dress in street clothes (though SVPD Sgt. Ricky Cathers is threatening to give her a uniform for Christmas).

“I feel like I’ve died and gone to law enforcement heaven,” Joy says. “This is something I never dreamed would happen.”

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.

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