Long-simmering tensions in the River Forest police department came to a head Tuesday night when rank-and-file police officers voted overwhelmingly in favor of a “no confidence” resolution against the police chief and his two deputy chiefs.
The vote, which unnamed sources say was 17-2, came at the end of a two-hour meeting by members of FOP Lodge 46.
Michael Thornley, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 46 president, confirmed Wednesday night that a vote had been taken, but would only say that the vote for no confidence resolution was “a super majority.”
Thornley said he would have no comment on the specifics of the resolution until a formal statement had been approved by the FOP 46 executive board.
Asked what issues the resolution addressed, Thornley said it “would run the gamut of management failures” at the police department. He said formal notice to the village board of trustees and the media would be sent out either late Thursday or on Friday.
According to sources, a total of 26 officers were eligible to vote on the no confidence resolution. If the seven officers who did not attend the meeting had voted against the motion, the vote would have still been nearly 2-to-1.
One source said the vote was primarily to get the attention of village trustees. There have been frequent–but unconfirmed–reports of low morale on the department for the past two years, including charges of favoritism benefiting a select group of officers. Another alleged bone of contention has been reported short staffing on the department. One source said that the department has been two officers short for the past year and is not expected to be at full strength for another year or so.
Several sources have also noted that several officers have left prior to retirement, and that others are considering leaving due to concerns regarding how the department is being administered.
Two issues are proceeding in the background. The village is negotiating a new police contract. There are also three ongoing federal cases against the department filed by two veteran officers–Lt. Craig Rutz and Sgt. Thomas Ludvik. In May those three cases were combined. The cases, which allege age discrimination and retaliation, as well as improper use of federal grant funds, are expected to go to trial October 27.
Village President Frank Paris said neither he nor Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez had heard of the vote as of Thursday. Paris said he was puzzled as to the police officers’ motivation.
“I can’t imagine why they’d do this,” he said. Told of the rank-and-file’s concern regarding “management failures,” Paris replied, “How are the beat officers finding themselves in a position to judge management?”
Paris added that the ongoing contract talks entered arbitration at the village’s request.
However, one anonymous source said that the ongoing contract talks had nothing to do with the no confidence vote.
Trustee Russ Nummer said Thursday morning that he’d heard of the vote soon afterwards, but has not yet received any formal notification. He said that he strongly disagreed with Paris’s suggestion that union police officers couldn’t critique their leadership.
“I do not agree with that assessment,” he said. Officers, he said, have a right to indicate their concerns regarding management practices.
Nummer retired three years ago after 30 years on the River Forest Fire Department, the last two as chief. He said he had never heard of a “no confidence” vote against fire or police command personnel during his career.
The vote, he said, clearly indicates a serious level of dissatisfaction “far beyond” one or two disgruntled officers.
“You can’t just disregard that [the overwhelming vote],” he said. “This is not something you can simply attribute to disgruntled employees. This is way, way beyond that.”
While declining to comment on any specific grievances until he received formal notification from the FOP Lodge, Nummer said any charges made in the resolution should be fully investigated and discussed by the village board.
“It’s significant enough that we would really have to look closely at what’s going on,” he said.