At some point in our teenage years, almost all of us were pulled aside by an older relative and given a crucial piece of advice: “Choose your battles wisely.”
Every so often we all subconsciously refer back to that day and, before we embark on a time- and money-consuming fight, swallow our pride and ask ourselves, “Is this really worth it?”
With several potentially never-ending and highly expensive lawsuits pending as a result of the police department’s efforts to fire Sgt. Dan Harder, it might be time for Police Chief James Ryan and his attorneys to listen to Grandma.
Regardless of the outcome of Harder’s Police and Fire Commission hearing, it is doubtful that he will ever again work for the Village of Forest Park. If his participation in the 2002 sexual harassment suit did not make his work environment uncomfortable enough, the aftermath of this case would make it downright impossible.
If both sides realize this to be the case, we would presume that there must be some sort of compromise or buyout proposal that could end all of this before it spins totally out of control.
Though admission of evidence that the infractions Harder is charged with are commonplace among police officers may have been denied for the current hearing, such evidence is abundant and would surely be admissible in a civil discrimination suit.
If that’s not enough for Harder to win the inevitable civil case, it would surely provide the grounds for countless appeals. Eventually, taxpayers would be stuck with the legal bill.
For a crash course in the potential consequences of its actions, the village need look no further than River Forest. There, a suit from three police officers alleging discrimination and retaliation has been providing village officials with regular migraines since March of 2003.
Legal expenses for that case are expected to easily exceed $300,000, and there is no reason to think the Harder case would go any differently. Of course, the village may be insured for some of these costs, but we would guess that past sexual harassment suits did not exactly help the police department negotiate insurance rates, and another round of lawsuits coming just a couple years later will likely raise them through the roof.
It might be difficult for the department to consider offering money to a man they believe brings such bad karma to the police station that his mere presence on the payroll during his suspension would irreparably damage morale.
Putting pride aside, however, the village must realize that these legal fees are not coming out of their own pockets. Most residents just want to see as little of the police’s budget as possible go toward anything other than serving and protecting.
No matter how the upcoming hearings go, the village will have accomplished its goal of getting Harder off the force. Let’s hope they proceed from there in the most painless way possible.