Former Rockford detective teaches Auburn students how to solve a crime


Crime-detecting sleuth

Rockford, IL. – You might call Juan Tapia a crime-fighting teacher.  The Auburn High School educator and cop-turned-tutor have seen people at their worst as a Rockford Police detective.  He’s also seen people at their best, like the time people “came from nowhere,” to help him lift a car off a person who was trapped underneath.  

“I saw a lot of bad things that happen that most people don’t see,” Tapia said, as he described his 25 years as a Rockford and Belvidere police officer, training officer, and investigator.  “It can be like SVU on TV.  Half the time it is like COPS on TV. “We have shootings, stabbings, domestic assaults, fatal crashes, serious crashes, sex and drugs crimes, some committed by juveniles.  There were times though too, where I saw the good in people and saw the world in a very good way.”

As Tapia leads his crime scene investigation class at Auburn High School, he sports a calm demeanor most students like and appreciate. He says that comes from having seen just about everything up to this point in his life.  What began as a bet, turned into a career for Tapia who retired from Rockford Police Department in 2019, He began teaching in 2020.

“My first year of teaching was behind a computer,” Tapia recalled, as he talked about the impact COVID had on his first year of teaching.  “When I was a detective, I was approached by a retired police officer at Guilford who told me Auburn was looking for someone to teach crime investigation. I thought, “Why not go back to my roots and be a teacher.”

Tapia, who is bi-lingual, went to RVC and NIU to become a math teacher but before he could get his first teaching job, he ran into a friend who told him Belvidere needed Spanish-speaking officers.  Tapia would lose a bet with the friend that would take his life in an unexpected yet challenging and rewarding direction as a Belvidere then Rockford police officer.

Tapia has seen his share of bad things inside and outside school, he said. While there are many incidents he recalls, two that stand out are the murders of police officer/detective Kevin Rice by then-19-year-old William Buck and the on-duty death of fellow officer Jaimie Cox in 2017.  

As a teacher, Tapia, who was born in Mexico, tries to bridge the gap between students and the police as well as share his knowledge of the good and bad of Forest City. He knows what it was like to be born on the other side of the tracks as his family of five kids and parents moved to Texas and then to Bevldiere when he was around 10.

“Being a police officer is a really good job,” said Tapia, father of two girls and married for 30 years to his wife.  “I would recommend it. Sure, there is distrust among the public.  There are good and bad police officers just like there are good and bad people in all walks of life.”

Tapia said he would change little about his professional life, including working here at Auburn.

“I loved being a cop but you have to realize you may not come home one night,” he said. “I had one close call 15 years ago. I think about it to this day. Life happens and it brought me here. I am happy to share what I know with the students. I learn from them too.”