As troubling as a felony indictment against one of Forest Park’s top officers might be, the problems within this police department are simply too big to think that the outcome of a single case will provide the solution. The civil and criminal proceedings against Sgt. Mike Murphy span more than a decade, and though his track record is concerning, his story is only one of the threads in this department’s ugly history.
Mayor Anthony Calderone recently suggested that the trials and tribulations of the department, or any of its officers, cannot be considered collectively. The long view, he said, is inappropriate because the circumstances of each complaint, each lawsuit, each termination hearing and now each indictment are different. His assertion is utterly and stunningly flawed.
This department has seen several leadership changes in the last 20 years, but regardless of who holds the reins, the political maneuvering, the allegations of brutality and the sloppy oversight persist. For this reason, we are not calling for the police chief’s ouster at this time. Frankly, we don’t think it would make any difference whose lap these problems land in. What we are suggesting is that the entire village council begins taking the long view.
There needs to be a clear message coming from the top as to what the expectations are for this police department. Simply installing a new officer here or another sergeant there isn’t enough to change the culture without the political will to back it up. Maybe an outside agency needs to sit down with the council and layout, in all its ugly detail, exactly what the problems are so commissioners can be sure everything is addressed.
Are rank and file officers distrustful of the brass? Are there mixed messages when it comes to enforcing department policy? Should officers assume they can turn to council members if they’re unhappy with a supervisor?
One of the conclusions this council must reach is that it will agree to stop meddling in police operations. The mayor has denied time and again that he’s looking over the chief’s shoulder, but we don’t believe him. Calderone enjoys playing the hero’s role. His attendance at various police calls and inflated recollection of his days as an auxiliary officer are evidence of that. And who can forget his fouling of a disciplinary matter with a former lieutenant.
The mayor’s and council’s role in solving the problems at the police department is to gain an understanding of the necessary changes and then find someone who can deliver. It is not the council’s job to run the department, but the elected officials must set a new tone.