The River Forest village board’s police committee voted unanimously Thursday night to appoint a retired Chicago Deputy Police Superintendent to act as its advisor, one of just two times the committee managed to agree on anything other than adjournment.
Mathias Casey, a lawyer and 40 year veteran of the Chicago force who was a deputy superintendent, will serve on a pro-bono basis for an indeterminate length of time.
Committee chairman Steve Hoke also agreed to consider a second retired Chicago officer, 37 year Brad Woods, a former Chicago commander, whose primary experience is in personnel management.
“Mr. Casey has a broad base of experience that can only benefit us,” said Hoke.
The three hour-plus meeting highlighted major fault lines between the two camps on the River Forest village board, as the three committee members waded through blatant differences of opinion and outright personal animosity.
Hoke made it clear both during the meeting and afterward that he considers the current committee process to be investigative rather than corrective. An outside expert is needed, he said, to provide advice and counsel for the committee as it investigates alleged problems in both the police department and the West Suburban Combined Dispatch Center (WSCDC).
Hoke called Casey a “law enforcement renaissance man” who has a broad range of command experiences, including operations and force deployment and police communications technology. Casey wrote the police manual on the use of deadly force, supervised the department’s preparations for the Y2K transition and also studied the Los Angeles police department’s dispatch system for his master’s thesis.
Trustee Susan Conti, who recommended Woods to the police committee, suggested that what is needed is an overall audit of the police department and WSCDC operations.
Police committee member Pat O’Brien agreed with Conti that the primary problems with both the police department and WSCDC are fundamentally personnel in nature. Hoke and Trustee Steve Dudek insisted that the problems were primarily operational, with some personnel aspects.
Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez and Village Attorney Jon Gilbert both backed up Hoke and Dudek’s claim that the committee needed to be exceptionally cautious regarding touching on any issues that related to ongoing federal law suits and deadlocked collective bargaining with the police union.
Police staffing problems
The police department currently has two officers serving in the Middle East, with another one possibly set to deploy. In addition, one sergeant is currently on limited duty due to an injury, and a female officer is about to go on extended maternity leave. In addition the department is replacing one of two officers who resigned. The Fire and Police Board recently made conditional offers to two candidates, and is waiting their acceptance.
Police Chief Nicholas Weiss repeatedly argued that police staffing levels, while an ongoing problem, aren’t anywhere near crisis stage, saying, “I don’t think we’re near crisis, we’re not near the breaking point.”
Hoke and Dudek disagreed strongly.
“You’re a lot closer than you think,” said Dudek, who said he was “uneasy” with the gap between police command’s claim of no crisis and rank and file officers in the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), who insist that they are being overly stressed.
“I’ll put money on it that (the truth) is in the middle,” said Dudek.
O’Brien criticized his two colleagues for “beating a dead horse” regarding the staffing issue.
“It’s all nonsense,” O’Brien said. “The fact of the matter is (Weiss) explained it three times at the last meeting.”
Hoke and Dudek also expressed serious concerns with Weiss’s oft-expressed opinion that the police department would do “whatever it takes” to provide adequate services despite ongoing shortages.
“We might be able to maintain full staffing, but we’re running on the line,” said Hoke.
Gutierrez suggested that perhaps the police department was the victim of a confluence of events beyond its control.
O’Brien also supported demands by Weiss that the FOP provide clarification of several of the points made in a June 25 “no confidence” resolution. Weiss complained repeatedly that he and his two deputy chiefs have had their integrity and character impugned by the FOP allegations.
“They’re attacking my integrity and the integrity of (deputy chiefs Dan Dhooghe and Kendra Sullivan),” he said with clear frustration in his voice.
Hoke replied he was equally concerned with the morale of the entire department, command staff and patrol officers.
“There’s a real perception by your union that there is a problem,” he told Weiss. “The morale of the police department means something to me. These are the men and women who are on the front line.”
When O’Brien later criticized Hoke for not trying harder to get the FOP leadership to respond to Weiss’s concerns, Hoke countered that O’Brien’s attitude and manner with the FOP was counter productive.
“I’d like you to be professional and create an atmosphere of problem solving,” he said.
Village President Frank Paris, who was unable to attend the meeting, said later that the FOP leadership was “stonewalling and refusing to cooperate.” He also said that “nobody requested (the FOP) respond publicly,” and that the FOP’s refusal to respond was “very troubling.”
Hoke, though, said that a public response is exactly what Weiss, Dooghe and O’Brien had demanded.
On Monday Wednesday Journal received a faxed copy of a letter from the FOP’s legal counsel, Jeffrey Burke to Hoke, seeking a written guarantee of “protection from retaliation for all officers who cooperate in your investigation.”
A second letter to Hoke, from FOP President Michael Thornley, notes that on July 23 Weiss sent out an e-mail reiterating that officers could be disciplined under departmental rules that disallow the dissemination of any records related to police business.
“We want to comply with any reasonable request, because we strongly believe our trustees and the community we serve have a right to these answers,” Thornley wrote.