Though many of the critics have cried foul play since the village council voted 4-1 at its most recent meeting to give full authority over hiring and firing part time police officers to Mayor Anthony Calderone, the mayor has said the move should not be a concern for those fearing that it gives too much power to one individual.
“Ultimately, (the part time officers) will answer to the chief of police and their watch commanders….My recommendation is really just a formality,” he said.
The position was first created at the council’s November meeting, and at the time all hirings and firings were to be conducted by the village council. On Jan. 9, the commissioners amended the ordinance so that the authority would rest solely in the hands of the Commissioner of Public Affairs, currently the mayor.
The change, as well as the original ordinance, drew strong objection from Commissioner Patrick Doolin, who felt that since part time cops would be given the right to carry guns and make arrests, their hiring should be given more scrutiny than other employees.
“I’ve never been pulled over for speeding by a public works guy,” he said in response to Calderone’s assertion that the process for hiring part-time cops was the same as other village hirings.
Hiring decisions for full-time police officers are voted upon by the village’s Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, and the board votes on all firings or suspensions of over five days as well. Calderone, however, said that the belief that the board was given this authority because of the high level of responsibility assumed by police officers is false.
“Firefighters are also hired by the fire and police commission, and they don’t carry guns or make arrests,” he said. “(The Board of Fire and Police Commissioners) stems back in history because a preponderance of the work force in any municipality is cops and firefighters, and at one time they were often political hires,” he said, noting that such commissions were formed in the wake of Chicago’s Shakman Decree, originally passed in 1972 to eliminate the hiring and firing of municipal employees for political purposes.
Doolin referenced the same decree to make his case for more checks and balances surrounding part time police officers, calling the unilateral authority placed in the mayor’s hands “scary.”
Calderone said that he decided to amend the ordinance so that individual hirings would not be politicized. He noted that several other villages, including Elmwood Park and Brookfield, employ similarly appointed part time officers.
He has repeatedly emphasized that part-time officers will be at will employees, and that “if it doesn’t work out, they will no longer work here.”
According to Calderone, the officers will get all their assignments and day to day instruction from Police Chief James Ryan or their relevant watch commanders.
Ryan said that the part time officers will free up full time officers for more targeted surveillance assignments in high crime areas and will also create opportunities for full time officers to receive additional training.
Ryan also expressed hope that there would now be more officers available for traffic enforcement and that the department will be able to initiate a truck-overweight program under the guidance of Off. Tom Hall.
“I’m confident that if we increase traffic productivity we would cover (the part time officers’) salaries,” he said.
Responding to concerns that giving the mayor authority to appoint part-time police officers could lead to abuses down the road, Calderone expressed disdain for such slippery-slope arguments.
“I suppose there’s room for abuses in any hiring process,” he said. “But it’s difficult to respond to presumptions… That’s why we go through elections in this country, and the citizens have the opportunity to change their elected officials if they’re not satisfied.”
Still, the mayor’s critics remain unconvinced. “I think the commissioners all should have input on who’s involved in the roll of protecting and serving. (Other employees) might be asked to serve, but not to protect. They don’t have the ability to say ‘oh, I hate that guy, I’m pulling him over and giving him a ticket,” said Marcy Wozniak, a Forest Park resident and member of the group Citizens United in Forest Park (CUinFP).
So far, according to Calderone, two part time officers have been sworn in: Fran Marrocco, a Forest Park resident and former FBI agent who has worked in Crestwood as a part-time officer, and Jarleth Heverson, a former part-time officer in Lake County currently working as an auxiliary police officer in Desplaines.
Ryan said that there are no immediate plans to expand the program beyond the two officers currently in place. Part-time officers will be paid $20 per hour, with no benefits.