Veteran RF officer goes public with concerns

? Letter in May issue of police journal criticizes appointed ranks and "professional chiefs."

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By BILL DWYER

Lt. Craig Rutz, one of three River Forest Police officers currently suing the Village of River Forest in Federal court, published a letter highly critical of the general state of law enforcement, and specifically two current law enforcement administrative practices in a state law enforcement journal.

In the letter Rutz, 53, who has served on the River Forest force since January of 1982, also appears to castigate superiors in his department and the village administration.

The department, he writes in the May issue of the Illinois Police Association Official Journal, "has deteriorated to the point at which it would be utterly unrecognizable to generations of officers who served with pride and dignity."

"Advancement is no longer something to be earned by performance and genuine competition," he continues. "And harassment and discrimination are the vehicles public officials use to eliminate opposition and prevent revelation."

In a conversation with WEDNESDAY JOURNAL on May 23, Rutz distanced himself from those allegations, saying he meant them in a more general sense, including the two main criticisms regarding appointed police ranks and what he terms "professional chiefs" of police. The letter, he said, was sent to a professional journal, and was not intended for general dissemination.

"Everyone assumes that the checks and balances that were built into our government from the very beginning
are in place and working," wrote Rutz. "But they're broken."

Calling himself part of a "dying class of ranking officers replaced by appointed leaders," Rutz goes on to write that such appointed ranks were created to "stop rampant corruption in public service."

Appointed ranks, he charged, are being used to mute policy criticisms with police departments.

"The commonly accepted tenet that a manager has to have the ability to bring in his own team is a deceit," Rutz wrote. "It's an excuse to do away with the opposition, which is part of the check and balance of any good management, and it's a convenient way to avoid requiring managers to learn to work with others."

Rutz then took on what he termed "professional chiefs."

"The second and most villainous factor in the decline of public service is the professional chief."

"They travel from one department to another, selling their submissiveness to local power brokers for a title and a command," Rutz continued. "It may be hard to accept, but sometimes there are reasons these individuals never reached the top in their own agencies."

A photocopy of the published letter was mailed anonymously to WEDNESDAY JOURNAL recently, as well as to River Forest Trustee Michael O'Connell. A third copy of the letter was posted on the bulletin board of the River Forest police department's roll call room.

Rutz said that he still isn't clear whether the person doing the mailing is a friend or foe, but the roll call room posting led to Rutz being dressed down by Police Chief Nicholas Weiss two weeks ago for what the chief perceived as Rutz's disrespect for the department.

While Rutz declined to speak about the details of the hour-long weekend meeting with Weiss, he said he was not referring to Weiss in the piece.

Weiss said last week that it appeared to him that Rutz had in fact referred to the River Forest police force in his letter.

"There were opinions expressed that I don't agree with, especially as they apply to the River Forest Police Department," said Weiss. "The concerns I expressed to [Rutz] were regarding what I took to refer to River Forest."

However, the chief sounded willing to give Rutz the benefit of the doubt.

"He told me he wasn't talking about us," said Weiss. "He wanted me to note that he didn't identify any person of department."

Rutz's attorney, David Thollander, said May 23 he hadn't been aware of the letter until after its publication, and that he had mixed feelings about it.

"I think it puts him more out there in terms of vulnerability," said Thollander, who charged that as a result of the letter Rutz was now being subjected to what he termed "adverse employment situation," and has "become an island unto himself" within the department.

"He's the only lieutenant to do foot patrol," said Thollander. "He's been left out of the chain of command."

Thollander said that Rutz received a Letter or Reprimand directly related to the letter's publication, which Chief Weiss has flatly denied. Thollander also contended that both Rutz and another officer currently suing the village, Sgt. Thomas Ludvik, recently received evaluations that were the lowest in their careers, with drops of some 20 points from previous evaluations (on a 100 point scale).

At least one village trustee has expressed concern that the underlying issues addressed in Rutz's letter do in fact apply to the River Forest department, and that those issues aren't being adequately addressed by village leaders.

"It seems the letter is consistent with information brought to my attention over the past three years," O'Connell said last week. "These issues are not surprises to the board. They have already been brought to the board's attention."

O'Connell said allegations of low morale merit a broader discussion among board members. "If there's a public discussion of how a[n alleged] lack of promotion from the ranks is contributing to a serious lack of morale, we need to look into it," said O'Connell. "My concern as a board member is to get to the bottom of what may be going on in the department."

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