Oak Brook police vote ‘no confidence’ in chief

Oak Brook’s village board plans to hire an outside investigator to look into police department matters in response to officers’ vote of no confidence in Chief Thomas Sheahan.

Fraternal Order of Police Attorney Gary Bailey announced the no-confidence measure, which he said passed by an overwhelming margin, at Tuesday’s village board meeting. The Oak Brook police department suffers from a “glaring morale problem” stemming from Sheahan’s “arbitrary and selective” discipline, Bailey told trustees.

“They took this vote to alert you that the problems they have endured have reached a stage where they are genuinely concerned for the future of this department and the village,” Bailey said.

Trustees, meeting in closed session until late Tuesday night, discussed bringing in “an unbiased third-party” such as a member of the retired police chiefs’ association, Village President John Craig said.

“The investigation should be done quickly,” said Trustee Gerald Wolin. “We cannot allow a morale problem to continue for any period of time.”

Wolin suggested hiring former Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins, who successfully prosecuted former Gov. George Ryan, to investigate police department operations.

Sheahan blamed the no-confidence vote on “a perfect storm” of events, starting with the difficult and lengthy contract negotiations.

“Our guys made a lot of concessions that really helped out the village — a lot of concessions,” Sheahan said. “I’m proud they did that.”

On Feb. 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against former Police Sgt. Randy Mucha, whom Sheahan fired in 2007. And on Feb. 19, the police commission fired Officer Stephen Peterson after finding him guilty of withholding information in the disappearance of his father Drew Peterson’s fourth wife.

Sheahan, who characterized himself as a “fair disciplinarian,” said such firings understandably stir emotions among the officers’ colleagues.

“We’re like any family; we’re going to roll our sleeves up and work together and get through this thing,” Sheahan said.

But Bailey downplayed any connection between the no-confidence statement and the Peterson firing, which he called “the circus that played out this past weekend on every media outlet in the Chicagoland area.”

“No matter when we issued it, it would have been timed in relation to something,” he said.

Police morale has deteriorated steadily since Sheahan became chief six years ago, Bailey told trustees. Sheahan is “indifferent to the concerns of the rank and file” and fosters “a climate of secrecy,” Bailey said.

“At one time, (Oak Brook’s officers) felt that they worked for the premier police agency in this county,” he said. “No longer.”