The police in private

Opinion: Editorials

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Of all the appointed bodies in Oak Park, the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners was not one that regularly made headlines. Until it did.

On rare occasions when a local cop was in trouble and facing stiff discipline or dismissal at the recommendation of the police chief, the police and fire board would convene. It has over the decades been a respected body of three appointees with the gravitas to consider both the career-upending discipline it was allowed to mete out but also the violation of trust between department and community that such charges often represented.

It was a public process with posted meetings and announced outcomes. Cops didn't like it because it was public. Police chiefs didn't like it for the same reason. And finally, police officers assumed the appointed officials would tilt toward the established power base represented by the chief. And police chiefs worried their power would be undermined if the appointees did not follow his recommended consequences.

Well, now with a lawsuit against the department by an officer and a sergeant's resignation beginning to roil the department, we the public are left with a Board of Fire and Police Commissioners which has, effectively, been neutered. Almost a year ago, the Journal reported on a new arbitrator-approved contract between police officers and the village of Oak Park which took all disciplinary responsibility away from the police board and handed it over to arbitrators.

A cozy deal, we'd say. Police officers got all disciplinary hearings moved into a totally private venue. Arbitrators got a nice feed at publicly financed hearings. The village was able to wash its hands of it, saying the change was at the request of the police union and was decided in binding arbitration. But village government doesn't much like public discipline of cops either. Awfully messy when the single message on policing is "Look, crime rates haven't been this low in 40 years."

The police board still exists, but its role is now limited to involvement in hiring and promotions.

We'd suggest that a village board long on talk of transparency figure out a way in the weeks and months to come to open a window into what we expect will be a notable period in the police department.

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John Butch Murtagh  

Posted: August 25th, 2015 3:11 PM

It is good news. The Police and Fire Departments get more independence, we get more professional arbitration, and the power of the Police/Fire Commissions is reduced. It all makes sense.

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