Web Extra!

Click here to download a complete copy of the police consultants’ report

The River Forest village board released a consultants’ report Monday that focused on the morale and operations of the police department. The 21-page, single-spaced report by retired high-ranking Chicago police officials Don Zoufal and Brad Woods paints a department riven by deep-seated distrust and even animosity between the command and supervisory ranks.

At the heart of morale problems, Zoufal and Woods say, is inadequate command presence and a lack of communication.

“There needs to be dramatic improvement in the communication channels from the chief on down the ranks,” the report states.

Zoufal and Woods’ report is based on their review of village and police department documents, face-to-face structured interviews with all department members, and 26 written “command climate surveys” filled out by nearly every department member. The report outlines eight areas of concern, makes observations and gives recommendations regarding possible changes.

“My thought has been for a while there’s been a lack of communication,” said Village President Frank Paris, who in a phone interview from vacation in Alaska added that he’s eager to follow up on the report’s recommendations.

Village Trustee Steve Hoke, chair of the board’s police committee, briefly called the document a starting point. “I won’t characterize the contents of the report, as I think it should be allowed to speak for itself.”

Trustee Susan Conti cautioned against jumping to conclusions, saying, “This report requires a more intensive conversation than allowed with a few sentences.” But she did suggest there’s enough blame to go around. Noting that patrol officers’ surveys expressed “a strong desire for the supervisors and command staff to improve their relationship and for more accountability of the supervisors,” Conti said she believes the sentence that best illustrates the state of the department is “the absence of command staff has allowed supervisors to undermine command direction and policy…”

Divided management, low morale

The bulk of their time, Zoufal and Woods noted, “was spent in surveying the morale of the department and attempting to discern potential strategies for improvement.”

The written surveys confirmed long purported morale problems. Of the 24 patrol and supervisory officers surveyed, fully half rated morale as low or very low, while eight officers rated it as “moderate.”

The report outlines a near total divide between the three command level officers and the lieutenant and sergeants responsible for middle management of patrol officers.

“Supervisors universally expressed dissatisfaction with the command staff,” the report said. While it blames both the command staff and supervisors, it is most critical of the command staff. Calling it a “universally recognized problem,” Zoufal and Woods wrote, “Perhaps the most significant personnel problem confronting the RFPD is bridging the divide between the command staff and supervisors.”

Supervisors, they noted, “express open lack of respect for the command staff, particularly the deputy chiefs.” While noting jealousy may play a part in that situation, the consultants’ state, “A portion is also attributable to the concerns of fairness in the promotion process.”

Beyond poor communications, the report says, is a lack of physical presence by Police Chief Nicholas Weiss and his two deputy chiefs both during regular hours and afterward. Weiss is portrayed as someone generally regarded as knowledgeable of police work but also considered inaccessible during working hours and never present after hours.

“No one could recall the chief being present for a roll call,” the consultants wrote. “While deputy chiefs would occasionally attend roll calls, no one could recall the presence of either deputy at a roll call for the midnight shift.”

One criticism of supervisors made by patrol officers was their not being present on the street on second and third shifts.

“The lack of command staff presence has exacerbated trust and accountability problems,” the report states. “Only by being present during some of the shifts and on an unpredictable basis can command staff assess the validity of such allegations.”

While some patrol officers were critical of their direct supervisors, officers generally agreed with supervisors in their assessment of command presence.

“The lack of command presence was noted by both the (patrol officers) and the supervisory ranks,” Zoufal and Woods wrote.

Zoufal and Woods also criticized the physical layout of the police department, which has the three command staff members offices on the second floor and south side of the building, while patrol and supervisory officers work out of the first floor and basement of the north side of the building.

“There was repeated discussion in the structured interviews of ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs,'” the report said. “Some thought should be given to a physical reallocation of space within the village hall to accommodate greater interface between the command staff, supervisors and the patrol officers.”

Paris took some responsibility for that physical separation, saying the report “recognizes some errors I made” regarding the physical layout of village hall. Those physical barriers, he acknowledged, have added to the communication problems.

Of Weiss specifically, Paris said, “He has some (very) strong points, and obviously some weak points.”

Discipline inconsistent

Numerous officers expressed concern that fair and consistent discipline is lacking in the department. “Several (patrol officers) expressed the need for a more structured and consistent disciplinary process for those members who deserved it. Those patrol officers indicated a sense that discipline was totally lacking and not being handled in a proper manner.”

Patrol officers tended to focus blame on both command and supervisory staff.

“All problems with this department are due to supervisors and command staff,” wrote one patrol officer. “They are destroying the department.”

“Morale is disgusting between them and giving the department a bad name,” another patrol officer wrote of command/supervisor relations.

The report recommended there be greater involvement by the village administrator and village board in police matters, saying, “Some of the issues raised in this report, particularly those relating to morale, warrant greater administrative oversight and attention by the village.”

The report notes that seven of eight command and supervisory personnel have filed harassment complaints with Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez in the past year or so, and that those complaints have not been processed in a timely manner.

“While the delay does not necessarily prejudice any individual, undue delay may expose the village to both potential damages claims, if in fact the complaint has validity, and a continued unproductive work environment,” the report states.

The report gave overall observations of the types of command structures in other municipalities similar to River Forest’s population, but gave no specific recommendations.

Staffing and staff allocation was raised as an issue by several officers and supervisors. Zoufal and Woods made several recommendations, but noted a comprehensive staffing study would require the commitment of more time and resources than the village board had authorized.

In conclusion the consultants noted the village “may need the assistance of external experts in police management to facilitate solutions for some of the issues raised in this report.” In a footnote, they added that, to avoid appearances of conflict of interest, neither of the two consultants should be retained for that purpose.

Trustee Russ Nummer said he wasn’t surprised with any of the findings, and expressed eagerness to begin implementing some of its recommendations, something he feels the board is fully ready to do.

“All six of us agreed to the study, all six agreed on the people (involved), and all six agreed to release the study,” Nummer said, saying board is quite capable of working together.

CONTACT: bdwyer@wjinc.com

Key events leading to release of Zoufal-Woods report

2007

May 14

With trustees Steve Hoke, Steve Dudek and Susan Conti being seated, board quickly takes on a bloc split, with Village President Frank Paris being the deciding vote.

June 26

Police union votes 17-2 in a no-confidence resolution for Chief Nicholas Weiss and his two deputy chiefs, Kendra Sullivan and Dan Dhooghe.

July 23

Weiss responds in a 13-page memo, demanding details for “very vague” allegations, calling some “patently untrue” and pledging full confidence in his deputies.

July 31

Police union president Mike Thornley says Weiss has “all the information necessary to deal with the union’s allegations.”

Aug. 3

Dudek, Hoke and Russ Nummer call for a special village board meeting.

Aug. 5

With trustee Nancy Dillon absent, the village board votes 3-2 to appoint Hoke and Dudek to the village board’s police committee.

Sept. 11

Police department brass and the West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center present their responses to criticisms leveled by the police union.

September

Hoke and Dudek take over the village board’s police committee and begin looking into allegations of mismanagement both in the police department and at the village’s dispatch center.

November

Paris proposes he assume greater involvement in the appointment of trustees to standing board committees. Hoke, Dudek and Nummer allege an attempt to give Paris control of the police committee. Outright parliamentary war breaks out. The board abruptly terminates two meetings in the midst of heated deliberations and personal attacks; another meeting ends when the majority bloc trustees walk out. Nummer and Conti eventually craft a compromise to settle the dispute.

Dec. 27

River Forest settles two federal discrimination and retaliation lawsuits with Lt. Craig Rutz and Sgt. Thomas Ludvik, paying $75,000 of a $500,000 settlement.

2008

Jan. 25

Donna Ludvik, Thomas Ludvik’s wife and a police records clerk, receives two disciplinary writeups in one day from Deputy Chief Sullivan.

Jan. 27

Thomas Ludvik files his second formal complaint in 11 months with Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez alleging “continued harassment and retaliation” by Weiss, Dhooghe and Sullivan.

Jan. 30

Donna Ludvik formally complains to Gutierrez regarding disciplinary actions taken by Sullivan.

Feb. 12

Sullivan, claiming protected status as a female, files a harassment complaint with Gutierrez alleging harassment and a hostile work environment. She names Rutz, both Ludviks and Thornley.

Feb. 18

Local attorney Patrick Deady is hired to look into the circumstances surrounding harassment allegations by Sullivan and others.

Feb. 19

The police committee releases a 14-page interim report on the police department. It focuses on the two federal lawsuits, numerous unresolved retaliation and harassment complaints, staffing issues, chronic problems at the dispatch center, an investigation of possible criminal conduct by a police officer, and the parking citation program. Conti accuses Hoke and Dudek of “appointing themselves judge and jury” and objects to the public release of the report before its dissemination to the full village board. Former committee chair Patrick O’Brien disavows any responsibility for the report’s contents.

Feb. 20

Veteran village attorney Jon Gilbert resigns, citing a changed political environment he said has made his job increasingly stressful and time consuming. “The events of the past several weeks, in the context of the events over the past 10 months, have led me to conclude that I cannot manage my duties as village attorney and prosecutor and my other professional activities,” he wrote.

Feb. 25

Weiss issues an 11-page reply to the police committee interim report, saying it “contains much inaccurate misleading and false information and statements.”

March 24

Dhooghe files a harassment complaint with Gutierrez alleging “continuous harassment, work place bullying and a hostile work environment.” Dhooghe writes, “I am not mentioning names at this time because I am fearful of retaliation and because of continuous leaking of sensitive information to the press.”

April 18

Village unanimously approves hiring of consultants Don Zoufal and Brad Woods to conduct a comprehensive review of alleged problems in police department.

June 23

Zoufal and Woods present their report to the board in a two-plus hour executive session. Paris says afterward that he’s satisfied with the report.

June 23

Thornley is ordered suspended three days, reportedly for insubordination. At about the same time, Weiss moves to suspend Rutz for “poor judgment” in handling a retail theft.

July 1

The police committee, Paris and other trustees meet in closed session to question Weiss and his deputy chiefs about allegations of harassment by Rutz and Thornley.

July 10

Thornley’s appeal of suspension is denied by Weiss. Thornley files for a hearing before the fire and police commission.

July 14

Consultants’ report on the police department released to public.

Bill Dwyer

Join the discussion on social media!