By Kathi Kresol
Everyone who knew Randall Blank described him in the same way; happy, caring and completely dedicated to becoming a Rockford police officer. Randall worked hard to make his dream come true. He graduated from Jefferson High School and went to Rock Valley College. Randall passed the test for the police department but since there were no openings on the Rockford Police Department, he applied for the Freeport department instead. In February of 1980 a position became available and Randall was finally hired as a Rockford Police officer.
Randall was assigned to a beat on the east side of the river along East State Street. It was the early hours of December 31, 1980 when Randall called for assistance on the radio. He was in foot pursuit of a suspect. A woman at the Stage Door bar on First Street in downtown Rockford had her purse stolen. Randall was running after the man suspected of snatching the purse.
Police Dispatch and other witnesses would later testify about the following details. Randall caught up with the suspect later identified as 30-year-old Ollie Staten. The men struggled and Staten was able to grab Randall’s gun. Witnesses reported that Randall was on his knees with the other man in front of him pointing the gun. Randall raised his head and looked down the barrel of his own gun. He uttered one word, “Please!” There was one shot and Randall slowly fell forward face down onto the pavement.
His fellow officers found him there not far from the intersection of East State and Madison Streets. Randall was rushed to Swedish American where doctors struggled in vain to save the young officer’s life. He had been on the force only ten months.
Staten ran off but was caught a short time later by Officer Gregory Hansen. Hansen saw a car with Ollie Staten and another man inside. Hansen followed it and when the car pulled into a parking lot and one of the men got out, Hansen approached the car and secured the man inside and waited until the other came back out. The two men were arrested and transported to the jail. While searching the car Hansen recovered a woman’s purse and Randall’s gun.
Staten was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He died in November of 2000.
Randall’s funeral was held at St. Rita’s Church. Over 425 people including 300 police officers from Rockford and surrounding areas attended the services. Another 600 people were in the St. Rita’s gym where they watched the services on closed-circuit television. Fellow officers were pallbearers and over 100 squad cars followed the hearse to the cemetery.
Randall Blank’s name has been remembered in several articles through the years. A scholarship is offered in his name for Rockford students interested in police science by the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois.
Randall wanted to be a Rockford Police Officer from the time he was a boy. When people would ask him why he was so determined to make this his career, Randall always answered the same way. Randall wanted to help people and thought that being a peace officer would be a wonderful way to do that.
Though Randal was only 23 years old when he was killed, his dedication to the people of Rockford has carried his name through the 36 years since his death.