By Maria Maxham
The village of River Forest's refusal to back down on retaining Board of Fire and Police Commissioners disciplinary oversight of the police department is a major factor in the lack of a police union contract, their previous contract having expired in April 2019.
As a result, the village government and the police union are set to begin arbitration in October, in part because of this failure to reach an agreement about disciplinary action in the police department. A request from the union to postpone the arbitration is being considered.
For the past 30 years, the fire and police commission has been "the body which hires and promotes police officers and firefighters. They also determine whether these employees should be suspended beyond the chief's maximum authority or terminated based on the facts presented by both the village and the employees' union during a hearing," according to a statement released by the village July 28.
The union, however, is seeking to change this practice, taking away disciplinary oversight from the locally appointed commission.
"We don't have a police contract partly because of that," Village President Cathy Adduci said in a July 17 interview. "We have stood strong about stripping our disciplinary input away from our fire and police commission. They are taking us to arbitration on this issue."
Adduci added: "We're fighting tooth and nail for this. This is a big issue for us."
In the formal statement, Adduci made it clear that in today's current climate demanding police transparency and accountability, it is more important than ever to ensure proper oversight of departments.
"We believe the union is trying to take control of these disciplinary decisions at a time when police accountability and transparency is paramount. The union's proposal is out of step and wrong," reads the statement. "The village believes that retaining local control over disciplinary decisions is in the best interests of our community, particularly in an era where the public is rightly demanding accountability in law enforcement. We agree, and we believe that the best way to achieve that is by keeping these decisions local instead of giving them to an arbitrator where our community and residents are taken out of the process."
"If a grievance arbitrator comes into River Forest from outside our community, he or she does not see or deal with the consequences of his or her disciplinary decisions," Adduci said in the statement. "The arbitrator comes to our community, second guesses management's decision and our residents' decisions, and moves on to the next arbitration case someplace else. We believe our community deserves these important disciplinary matters to be decided by people who care about the community and the impact their decisions have on our town.
"Our residents love our police department. What they don't like is the idea that bad officers would be allowed to stay on the job. For the union to make this demand, after seeing what happens when officers who are bad at their jobs are allowed to continue working, is out of touch."
Additionally, Adduci wants state legislators to "improve police accountability and transparency by changing the laws to allow our community and residents on the [commission] to make these decisions, instead of an outside arbitrator."
Wednesday Journal reached out to union representatives who did not respond with comment on this issue.
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