The admission of guilt and subsequent sentencing of a former Forest Park police officer has unarguably left a bad taste in this community’s mouth. That a man charged with upholding the law in this community will serve time in prison for breaking it does nothing to lift the village’s name. In the eyes of many, even his good deeds will be tainted.
However you may judge Michael Murphy’s career, it is important that Forest Park learn from this. Murphy’s case was a singular event in what has been a tumultuous few years for the department, but it did not occur in a vacuum. Fitting Murphy’s case into the overall context of the department is made easier by a list of shameful incidents.
In a brief filed with the court prior to his sentencing hearing, Murphy’s attorney argued that the lousy work environment at the police department put an undue amount of stress on the former officer. This seems entirely plausible. Murphy was responsible for reporting allegations of sexual harassment to the higher ups, touching off one of the most bitter rifts in local government in the last decade. He was vilified in some circles and revered in others. Later, according to his attorney, Murphy learned that his wife, too, had been harassed by department brass.
These conditions had been in place for roughly a year before August 2003 when Murphy made the mistakes that cost him a career. A new police chief, Jim Ryan, had taken the reins not 48 hours prior. These were unbelievable circumstances for any new administrator. Having walked into a house divided by politics and meddling, Ryan opted for rehabilitation and sent Murphy into counseling for anger, stress and depression.
The outcome of Murphy’s case, as a singular event, should not be the focus of Forest Park’s elected officials. What they must concentrate on is instituting a level of professionalism that is sorely needed. The scandals that have embarrassed the police department – then and now – have more to do with how officers up and down the ranks interact with one another. True, Murphy’s troubles stem from an improper arrest, but it is plausible that his behavior was fueled by working in such a difficult environment.
But certainly for the worse, we have a mayor who is too willing to ignore the criticisms of outsiders. He enjoys the powers given to him under the commission form of government and has been eager to involve himself in police affairs. But Mayor Anthony Calderone has botched the management of the department, and he must take responsibility for those failures.
Whether it is the federal judge in this case, or the federal judge who called last year’s firing of a police officer “arbitrary and unreasonable,” Calderone is dismissive of such input. The police department has soured under Calderone’s control; whether he wants to acknowledge that is another matter entirely.