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Every once in a while, something good comes along in government — something that warms the heart and brings a smile. The feeling is like a whole lot of attaboys.

It happened last week in the Lake County Sheriff’s Department when a rudderless ship was put back on course.

Things haven’t been good in the county’s largest cop shop since last fall, when Sheriff John Buncich and Chief Deputy Tim Downs were indicted in connection with kickbacks from towing company operators.

Downs pleaded guilty and resigned. Buncich is scheduled for trial in August.

Although Downs was somewhat of an absentee chief, it was his job to run the department on a day-to-day basis. Unfortunately, the position has been vacant for almost six months.

With the sheriff under indictment, a heavy pall hangs over the department.

People are doing their jobs, but there is a lack of leadership.

That ended Wednesday when Buncich named Matt Eaton the police chief. Eaton has been commander of the Criminal Investigations Division.

Eaton also has been the guy a lot of cops have turned to for direction over the last few years, especially since the indictments.

Eaton is the guy the sheriff has relied on much of the time to do what Downs should have been doing.

Being the chief of the county police department is an ominous task. The chief runs the show with the sheriff’s blessing.

It’s not an easy job given that the chief is in charge of more than 200 police officers and civilian employees. Those numbers don’t include the ones who run the county jail. And when one is dealing with that many egos, it’s not easy keeping the peace and the department focused.

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Eaton is compassionate and has a feel for what to do to right a wrong. He brings vision to the table.

And perhaps most importantly, Eaton won’t have to earn the respect of the department. That happened a good while ago.

I know there is a guy down in south county smiling today. That is retired county police officer Dennis Eaton, who is Matt’s father.

Sometimes people are named chief of police because it pays political dividends.

Eaton was named because he’s right for the job.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at The opinions are the writer’s.