Report: Metra police were untrained in firearms, didn't ride trains
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After months of secrecy, Metra finally released a scathing report Wednesday about its police force that gives details about how officers rarely rode trains and were not properly trained in firearms, how they used out-of-date cars and technology, and how excessive overtime and irrational staffing proliferated.
"Metra's chronic failure to address these challenges over many years has fostered low morale among the department's rank-and-file officers," the report by Chicago-based security consultants Hillard Heintze stated.
"One of the most remarkable findings of our assessment was that Metra officers rarely ride trains," the consultants wrote. "It was surprising to us that almost no one indicated his or her job is to protect the passengers.
Also, "early in the assessment it became evident that the department's training was deficient in many areas, including weapons qualifications," the report stated. The consultants discovered "minimal or no training" in "use of force, firearms, arrests, search and seizure, internal affairs, evidence recovery and handling, interviewing and interrogation ... and ethics and integrity, among other things."
Other flaws included: "the antiquated and unclear mission of the department," "ineffective and in many cases nonexistent policies and procedures," and a "lack of rational staffing and patrol plans."
"We found when the police function was established, it was focused on protecting assets and physical things and the mission never changed over time," consultant Arnette Heintze said.
The report was completed in August 2013, when Metra was in turmoil and under fire for the abrupt departure of CEO Alex Clifford and an excessive settlement package some called hush money for his refusing to go along with political patronage pressure. But an initial assessment of the department's problems was completed in December 2012.
Acting CEO Don Orseno said Wednesday that as the board underwent changes related to the scandal and gained new members, the agency did not wish to release the report until all new directors were up to speed.
"I look at this as an opportunity to transform our police department in the future," he said, adding that Metra was being proactive for seeking the assessment in the first place. "We're refocusing our mission. At no time were our passengers unsafe in any shape or form."
In the meantime, the department has improved its performance in consultation with the consultants, officials said.
Metra announced last week it would pay $100,000 over two months to Hillard Heintze to provide an interim police chief, consult on the department's transition and search for a permanent leader. The same firm helped the Schaumburg Police Department reorganize after three undercover officers were arrested in connection with drug investigations.
"This was not a top flight-run organization. ... There were some things we needed to work on," acting Metra Chairman Jack Partelow of Naperville said Friday when asked about the report.
Former Chief James Sanford retired Wednesday after three decades with Metra. Hillard Heintze executive Harvey L. Radney, a former Chicago Police Department deputy superintendent, will serve as interim chief for the next 60 days.
The consultants criticized the agency's leadership.
"Across essentially all the department's various operating units, the gaps and vulnerabilities we identified lead back, ultimately, to an absence of leadership," the report said.
Metra's release of the Hillard Heintze study comes a day before its attorneys were supposed to respond to a Daily Herald Freedom of Information Act request seeking the full report.
The 114-page report goes into great detail about police department failings.
• Squad cars "have excessive mileage and are generally unreliable," consultants noted.
• Many officers stated the only training provided was a minimum-qualification shoot requiring firing only 30 rounds each year in "stark contrast to a best practice for law-enforcement agencies."
• The department has only one detective assigned to investigating serious crimes compared to four in the past. "There is little or no follow-up on crimes reported to Metra other than that of local law enforcement." However, there were 20 assigned to a special operations unit instead of basic patrol, which the consultants found puzzling.
• Metra needs to work more closely with other police jurisdictions on anti-terrorism measures.
Despite the problems, police officers were "deeply committed to providing safety and security services," the report noted.
• Metra hires a private security company during major events such as Taste of Chicago. In the meantime, a "virtually unlimited overtime" policy discourages officers to reach for higher rank. A study of crime incidents and calls for service would help the department allocate staff more efficiently, the consultants said.
The department has been criticized in the past for overtime. A Daily Herald report found the police department accrued $1.9 million in overtime during 2010 and $1.57 million through August 2011. Ninety-five cops received overtime in 2010. One police officer logged $67,598 in overtime, and a lieutenant made $65,447.
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