A small tempest has arisen over a badge placed in a display case in the River Forest Police Department's roll call room honoring retired village officers. The badge of Robert Jandrisits, who stepped down in October, 2003, reads "deputy chief." That, says the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 46, which represents rank-and-file River Forest officers, violates 75 years of established tradition. Jandrisits, who was promoted from sergeant to deputy chief in July of 2002 and then acting chief, should be represented by his sergeant's badge, says the lodge.
"Our position is we don't want to have the (deputy chief's) badge in there," said Lodge President Thomas Ludvik last Friday. Ludvik, who is a River Forest police sergeant, said that he sent River Forest Police Chief Nicholas Weiss a letter expressing his membership's concerns in December. In that letter he pointed out that, up until now, the badges of retired officers have always reflected the final civil service rank of the retiree. And indeed, with the exception of Chief, all badges in the case with the exception of Jandrisits' read either "Patrolman," "Sergeant," or "Lieutenant," as opposed to such appointed positions as detective, corporal, juvenile officer and evidence technician.
"We're not attacking anyone. We're merely trying to uphold the historic tradition," said Ludvik.
Weiss said Friday that while he agrees with the FOP's contention that the rank of deputy chief is an appointed position, it differs from detective or juvenile officer in a distinct and crucial way.
"The deputy chief position was created by village ordinance," said Weiss. "It was not created administratively." Such an origin, Weiss had written in his Jan. 4 reply to Ludvik, places the deputy chief position in the same category as sergeant and lieutenant, which he said the village is also allowed to create under state statute.
Chief Weiss said Friday that the creation of the two deputy chief positions was necessary for the smooth administration of the department. Ludvik contends otherwise, saying in a cover letter that Weiss is displaying a badge "representing a job assignment specifically created to remove officers from our lodge."
Following Weiss' January response, Ludvik said, the lodge membership unanimously asked him to appeal to former River Forest Police Chief Nicholas Coscino, who was one of a group of former officers who had originally had the case built to replace a memorial created over 50 years ago.
Coscino, who now resides in Arizona, weighed in on the issue with relish in a letter to the FOP membership, dated Feb. 15. Calling the village's plan "bogus," he termed it a "bastardization of the lofty goals of exempt job positions.
"Obviously your village administration does not want to live up to the agreements made by prior administrations," Coscino told lodge members.
Coscino accused the village administration of attempting to drive a wedge into the FOP, writing, "It now appears the village administration is successfully implementing that old tried-and-true management technique known as 'divide and conquer.'" He urged police officers to respond with "a united front."
The badge controversy is the latest flare-up in a series of incidents stemming from administrative changes to the department's command structure that were instituted over the summer of 2002 by former chief Michael Holub and Village Administrator Charles Biondo. In an effort to create a management level under the direct hiring and firing control of the police chief, the village board approved the creation of two new deputy chief positions exempt from the collective bargaining agreement. It also subsequently eliminated one of two lieutenant positions, with the remaining position to be phased out when the last remaining lieutenant retires.
In July, 2002, Lt. Craig Rutz, Lt. Bruce Higgins, and Ludvik were among a dozen officers, mostly sergeants and lieutenants, who were passed over for promotion to deputy chief. In March, 2003, they filed a federal lawsuit, charging that the village and former police chief Michael Holub had engaged in age and gender discrimination in passing them over for one of the deputy chief positions. In that suit, they pointed out that the officer who was promoted, 38-year-old Patrolman Kendra Sullivan, had half their time in service, and had no supervisory experience.
Last November, Rutz and Ludvik (Higgins has retired) filed a second federal suit against the village and Weiss, charging two counts each of age discrimination and retaliatory behavior in regards to the promotion of then 37-year-old Patrolman Dan Dhooghe to the post of Deputy Chief for Operations that had opened up when the Jandrisits retired.
The village administration has declined to comment on the ongoing court cases, but the attorney for all three officers, David C. Thollander, said recently that he expects the first lawsuit to proceed to trial after a final hearing sometime in April.