Lieutenant Rgnonti retires after 29 years of service
Jim Rgnonti arrived for his first interview with former Hastings Police Chief Daryl Plath only to have Plath tell him that he was a day late. He had missed his interview. Rgnonti asked Plath to keep him on the list for the next round of hires and he was eventually hired in the summer of 1987.
Rgnonti has had a long and accomplished career despite his interview faux-pas, which has been a long-standing joke within the department. Now, the lieutenant has plans to retire at the end of this year, on Dec. 30.
“It’s going to be bittersweet, but you (have to) give it up sometime,” Rgnonti said.
Rgnonti said his passion for police work stems all the way back to his childhood. His father was a police officer in Scott County and he always enjoyed hearing stories and seeing the camaraderie his father had with other officers.
Rgnonti’s father always told him “you get the front row seat to the best show in town” by being a police officer and Rgnonti found that to be true. Growing up, Rgnonti helped his father with private investigation at his father’s private firm, which is where he first remembers his interest in investigation.
Rgnonti said that when he became a detective at the police department in 1991 is when he really felt at home. When he was promoted a couple years later, he decided to give up his rank and go back to investigations because he liked it so much.
Rgnonti has been involved in several big cases in town, including the 1997 Kelly Ritt trial, involving a woman who burned her house down with her special needs child inside. Then there was the Niedere case, a 2005 double-homicide. Rgnonti said those are just some of the many cases he’s worked on.
In 1993, Rgnonti helped initiate the DARE program in Hastings. He said it was a rewarding experience, but he initially didn’t want to do it. He was a detective at that point and he wanted to concentrate his efforts on investigation. He had to test against five other people in the department.
“I finished dead last, but they still made me do it and I’m glad they did,” Rgnonti said.
He said he was able to see a lot of good kids through the program, whereas he was typically dealing with the troubled ones. Today, he still runs into the DARE kids he worked with and he said they now have kids that are the age he was teaching them at.
One thing Rgnonti said he is going to miss is the people he works with. He laughs every day with the people in the department because they tend to find humor in everything.
With all the experience he has had throughout his career, he said his only advice to incoming police officers is to be honest.
“That’s always the biggest thing, be honest and treat the cases that you get like they’re your own family,” he said.
Bryan Schafer, chief of police, said Rgnonti will be missed. Rgnonti was instrumental in helping Schafer transition into the department when he became chief of police three years ago. Schafer said Rgnonti has a ton of “institutional knowledge” and “he’s just a phenomenal investigator.”
Rgnonti has also become a key component in the body camera project, which began with a pilot program in February. Schafer said Rgnonti has issued and programmed most of the body cameras.
“As a result of that pilot, we’re moving it forward to council on Dec. 5,” Schafer said.
Rgnonti was instrumental in the body camera project, which will help the police department move into 21st century policing, Schafer said.
More information about the transition plan at the police department will be available in the coming weeks.