“The insurance company made us do it.” That lame response has become part of the seemingly acceptable excuse making and blind-eye turning that Forest Park elected and appointed officials trot out every time a settlement is made in a suit alleging that Forest Park police officers use excessive force on the job.
The most recent case has just been settled with a price tag of $600,000 going to the estate of Marco Gomez who was shot and killed by a Forest Park officer who alleged that the victim was attempting to run him over at the time of the shooting.
As in all such cases, the settlement avoids a jury trial, makes no admission of guilt by the village or its officers, and binds all parties to silence going forward.
Forest Park has become an easy target for lawyers and clients ready to allege excessive force because the insurance carrier always caves and demands the cases be settled out of court. That’s what we’ve heard for years from the former mayor, the former administrator and various other public officials.
We don’t hear this drumbeat of excuses in other towns we cover. Yes, excessive force suits are filed in other places. Sometimes insurance carriers push hard for settlements rather than trials. But there isn’t the culture of denial that we see too often in Forest Park.
These are days of challenge and opportunity for this small, critical institution. Two recent deaths of officers have added to an already stretched staff. There is a new chief and deputy chief, a new village administrator, a still new mayor. This isn’t the moment for hunkering down. It is a moment to actively open conversations with the community, to acknowledge where improvements can be made, bars raised.
We are struck this week, as we are so often, by the compassion and courage it takes to be a police officer. Two Forest Park cops and a civilian dove into the cold waters of the Des Plaines River last week to successfully rescue a woman who had lost control of her car on Roosevelt Road and plunged into the water.
Utterly astounding to have the presence and the nerve to risk your life in such a circumstance for a stranger. That is, we are certain, part of every officer on this force. And it is what the department can build on, grow on, even as it works to change a culture that has its darkness.
This is not a job for the police department in isolation. Change will only come in concert between our police and our community, with honest leadership and expectation-setting from the mayor and the village council.
The opportunity is right here to build a great and connected small-town, big-city police department.