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posted: 6/10/2012 6:53 PM

State statute protects police chiefs, causes friction

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Gilberts officials plan to reduce the number of supervisors in its police force, which today has four full-time managers overseeing just four full-time patrol officers and nine part-time patrol officers.

"One supervisor to one patrol officer is really excessive," said Trustee Louis Hacker, who first raised the issue in March during the village's budget discussions.

A resolution endorsing the changes, passed recently by the village board, does not mean anyone will be fired, but it indicates the board's desire to get back to a less "excessive" management structure through attrition.

Officials say the 1:1 ratio between supervisor and patrol officer is the result of a state statute requiring departments to keep former police chiefs on staff if they are discharged before they are eligible to collect their pensions.

Former Gilberts Chief Mike Joswick was promoted from his position as lieutenant and served for 13 years as chief before the village board decided to hire a new chief. His lieutenant position had since been removed, leaving two sergeants under the chief in management.

But the Illinois statute says if a member of a police or fire department is promoted to chief from within, he is considered on furlough from his prior position -- which must be made available should the chief be discharged before retirement age.

The resolution was meant to clarify that the village board ended up with its staffing levels because it was forced to, not because it wanted to, according to Village President Rick Zirk.

It also will make clear to the rest of the department what is intended for the future so officers do not look forward to promotions in the event of another supervisor's departure.

But the police department will remain as it is for now. And according to current Police Chief Steven Williams, no one is considering leaving.

Something similar happened in St. Charles when Chief Donald Shaw was forced to step down but returned to his previous position of sergeant (He filed a wrongful demotion lawsuit in 2003.) Shaw stayed in the organization as a sergeant, retiring just a couple of years ago, according to St. Charles Mayor Don DeWitte.

DeWitte said the situation afforded a learning experience, but a rare one.

"Whether it's a paramilitary organization like a police department or a management organization within a private sector corporation, most people having been to the top would rather move on in that same role somewhere else rather than to deal with being demoted to a lesser position," DeWitte said.

Police Chief James Lamkin came to St. Charles from a lower rank in Elgin to replace Shaw, and St. Charles hasn't needed to make an internal versus external hiring decision since. Lamkin continues to serve as chief.

In Elgin, Chief Jeff Swoboda made his rise through the organization, accepting the position of chief in 2010 after Lisa Womack's departure.

Like Shaw and Joswick, state statute requires he be offered his former position -- as deputy chief -- if the city council decides to select a new chief before he turns 50.

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