One phone call turned a routine afternoon for Schaumburg Police Chief Brian Howerton into one of the most emotionally and professionally challenging weeks he and the rest of his department have ever known.
And realistically, he told the Daily Herald editorial board Tuesday, the first of many such weeks ahead.
Howerton was sitting at his desk at 2:10 p.m. last Wednesday, putting together his department's annual budget when the telephone rang.
He picked it up to hear directly from DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin that three of the department's Special Investigations detectives — Terrance O'Brien, Matthew Hudak and John Cichy — had just been arrested on drug conspiracy charges.
The phone quickly rang a second time.
This was a Schaumburg detective sergeant asking him to meet outside. There, in the parking lot, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent was waiting with nine search warrants to execute.
“It's very disappointing for this to happen in Schaumburg,” Howerton said. “Nothing about this is good. It's just a bad situation all the way around.”
Thursday afforded Howerton the first chance to address the rest of the department, talk about what had happened and begin to lay out a path forward.
That path, he said, includes rebuilding the community's trust in the department by reaching out to other Schaumburg agencies and organizations, from school and park districts to homeowners' associations.
“This is far-reaching,” Howerton said. “This is not just an internal matter.”
He and others in the department have been experiencing the full gamut of emotions from sadness to grief to the anger of betrayal, he said.
While those who remain deserve to hold their heads high, Howerton said, he also reminded them that — like it or not — this scandal is going to reflect on the department where many have spent their entire careers. Nevertheless, he urged them to remain professional in all their interactions with the public.
“I emphasize that this isn't going away tomorrow,” he said.
With the arrests of the three undercover officers, only two officers and a sergeant remain in the Special Investigations unit, which concentrates on gangs, drugs and prostitution.
Their short-term goal will be to review all pending cases with an eye on what can be salvaged for prosecution, Howerton said. Meanwhile, the department will be looking long-term at whether any changes to the form of the unit are desirable, or whether procedures and policies need to be changed or strengthened to prevent this from happening again.
Another short-term concern is how easy it will be to find volunteers for the unit given the current climate.
Howerton said he's confident there will always be some type of undercover vice unit in Schaumburg. It's not something he's willing to outsource to other agencies like county or state police.
“We need to police our own community,” he said.
Schaumburg Village Manager Ken Fritz said officers have described feelings of anxiety and loss of sleep in the days following the arrests of their colleagues. Human resources staff members and counselors have been brought in to provide help, he said.
The village's own Office of Professional Standards is investigating the arrested officers in regard to their employment status, Fritz said. Currently, all three are on paid administrative leave.
The internal investigation is separate from DuPage County's criminal one but likely will use much of the same evidence once it becomes more freely available, Fritz said.
As for the officers' pensions, state law dictates what type of convictions can result in the loss of retirement benefits. One of the factors is if criminal behavior occurs while on duty, Howerton said. In cases in which a convicted officer's pension is forfeit, all that officer's contributions are returned to him or her, he added.
Cichy, Hudak and O'Brien all remain in custody at the DuPage County jail on $750,000 bond. They're scheduled to appear in court Jan. 31 on the charges that allege they skimmed marijuana and cocaine seized in drug busts then worked with a known dealer to sell them, splitting the profits.
While recognizing that citizens will look at the force differently in the wake of the officers' arrests, Howerton said the police department will bounce back because of its history of goodwill in the community. Already, he said, many citizens are offering their support.
“I think this black eye will heal, and I think it will heal pretty quick,” he said.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.