In rather quick succession the village has heard twice from the U.S. District Court in Chicago that the police department here has done a lousy job of policing itself. The department’s own investigations into allegations of brutality and dishonesty have resulted in drastically different findings than those of the court. The most recent ruling, handed down earlier this month in the case of former sergeant Dan Harder’s firing of a year ago, stopped just short of an outright declaration that the chief of police, the man who presumably sets the tone for all others in the department, is a fibber.
Short of a wholesale, revolutionary change in how this department is managed, Forest Park can continue to expect what it has long received. For years now it has been one black eye after another for the police department.
Sure, we could call for heads to be placed on the chopping block, but outsiders looking for a cushy chief’s job to bulk up their pension are a dime a dozen. The change that’s necessary is cultural. Policies must be evaluated for fairness, and they need to be enforced on an even playing field. Most importantly, politics must be removed from the day to day administration of the law in Forest Park and that begins with the mayor and his council.
This editorial page has consistently called for the scrapping of the commission form of government and it is our opinion that the police department’s history of backbiting, harassment, lawsuits and petty bickering is Exhibit A. To some extent we are shouting into the wind in asking for public officials to come to Jesus on this issue. We have little reason to believe that under this administration the police department – or the village – will see the type of changes necessary to move the community beyond its problems.
Mayor Anthony Calderone has been the figurehead of the police department for some nine years now and has at least three more to go. His mealy-mouthed comments that the federal judge who ruled in Harder’s favor doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt only underscore his unwillingness to address the issues.
If there is to be a radical and necessary difference, the difference makers must emerge from within the neighborhoods. When voters demand that the buffoonery stop, it will stop. When taxpayers tire of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to defend the ridiculous acts carried out in their name, those legal expenses will no longer be a drain on the budget. Then, and probably only then, will Forest Park have a police department it can be proud of.
The decent, hardworking officers of this department also have a role to play. The integrity of their work is often overshadowed by the seemingly endless procession of scandal. If the good work that is done by this department is to step into the spotlight, those with the integrity to do so must call attention to the mud puddles that dot the landscape. They can appeal to like-minded coworkers or to the outside agencies charged with such clean up. Otherwise, they too, risk being soiled by the puddle jumpers content to splash around in the status quo.