Elgin police chief wants to change promotion rules

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Travis Hooker's combined four-day suspension in late 2015 was turned into a three-day suspension.

The police officer at the top of the promotions list gets the job: That's how sergeant and lieutenant promotions take place in Elgin, and Police Chief Jeff Swoboda says it's time for a change.

He wants to be able to promote any of the top three officers on the lists, as allowed by state law. The lists, compiled every three years, are based on a formula that includes a written exam, an interview with the command staff, an outside assessment, and the officers' years of service and any military service, Swoboda said.

He also wants the board of fire and police commissioners to have the ability to boot officers off the lists for serious discipline or performance issues, he said.

The proposed changes, which Swoboda said he plans to discuss with the board of fire and police commissioners next month, come in the wake of Sgt. Travis Hooker's promotion April 15. Hooker's disciplinary records, obtained Monday by the Daily Herald via a Freedom of Information Act request, include a recent, combined four-day suspension in January for incidents in late November and early December. The suspension was later changed to three days.

Swoboda declined to comment on Hooker's discipline. Also promoted were Cmdr. Al Young and Lt. Jim Bisceglie, who have received no suspensions in the last two or more years, police officials said.

“I am confident all three will do well,” Swoboda said. “We looked at this rule we have in front of us, and we realized we need flexibility.”

Hooker did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Records show Hooker was suspended for three days for failing to appear in court as a witness after he was subpoenaed; he said he took pain medication in the early morning hours and fell asleep after going to physical therapy the previous day.

Hooker also was suspended for one day for failing to take a report from a woman who went to the police station saying she was concerned about someone threatening her son, records show. Hooker told the woman he couldn't take a report because it was about someone else and asked her to wait outside the lobby — which gets locked late at night — after she asked for a supervisor.

The current list expires in June; when it was compiled in June 2013, Hooker was ninth and made his way up the list as others got promoted, Swoboda said.

“A lot can happen in three years,” Swoboda said. “What I want to do is have the flexibility that if something changes, I don't have to choose the next person on the list.”

That's not to say that officers being disciplined always is cause for concern, Swoboda said. “Our supervisors routinely review the performances of our officers,” he said. “Once they serve their suspension time or get a letter of reprimand, we move forward.”

Swoboda said he plans to make a formal proposal at the board's next meeting in May. Board chairman Thomas Aagesen declined to comment, saying he wasn't aware of any specifics yet.

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