Jim Ryan’s retirement as chief of police on May 14 left the Forest Park Police Department’s top position vacant. Mayor Anthony Calderone filled the void by appointing Deputy Chief Tom Aftanas as acting police chief. The mayor’s action represented a temporary solution but at the May 26 village council meeting, Calderone initiated the first step toward making the selection permanent.

After acknowledging that his preference for the department’s top official was well-known, Calderone announced to the other council members, “I plan at our next meeting [June 8] on bringing forward an official recommendation” for Tom Aftanas.

As reported by the Review in March, Calderone said if re-elected, he would nominate Aftanas, a 23-year veteran of the department and deputy chief since 2006, for the role of police chief. 

“He is well-groomed and I think he would be the best prepared,” the mayor said at the time.

Calderone explained to the commissioners that he wanted to announce his intention in order to allow the elected officials ample time to “explore other options” if they felt it necessary. However, he added, “Some communities like to go out and do big searches and things like that. I personally do not see the need for it here.”

Although Ryan was an outside hire and the recruitment process included over 30 candidates, Calderone described a different situation with this latest hiring. Around eight years ago, he told Ryan to begin training his replacement. “I’ve always felt that the next chief of police should come from within the inside [of the department],” he said.

Commissioner of Health and Safety Tom Mannix immediately voiced his support for the mayor’s recommendation. Pointing across the room to where Aftanas was sitting, Mannix said, “Why waste time doing a dog-and-pony show when we know we have our next chief sitting right over there?”

Joe Byrnes, commissioner of Accounts and Finance, cited his experience working with Aftanas as further evidence. “I don’t think you could find a better person.”

Although he admitted he favors promoting from within, Commissioner of Streets and Public Improvements Dan Novak advised a more cautious approach. “I’d like to get to know Tom a little better,” he said and also asked for Aftanas to prepare a document explaining “why you are the best person for this.”

The mayor called Novak’s recommendation a “great suggestion.”

Traffic safety award

As the selection process continues, Aftanas can now include one more accolade to build his case for chief. The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police (ILACP), with a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, awarded its first place award to the Forest Park Police Department in the 2014 Illinois Traffic Safety Challenge.

According to a village hall press release, the annual challenge “ultimately rewards creativity, commitment and innovation in traffic safety and is designed to encourage agencies to set comprehensive goals, develop positive traffic safety programs, and share experiences. Award-winning programs effectively combine many different strategies to reduce crashes and injuries.”

Aftanas said, “Our department takes great pride in achieving this award. Being judged the best in the state is a testament to the department’s commitment to traffic safety and a direct reflection of the hard work performed by a dedicated group of police officers.”

The announcement marks the second time the department has received this recognition.

Mayor Calderone praised the department saying, “I am so proud of the passionate commitment by our police department in working so very hard to accomplish such a worthy goal.”