Despite trustee's blog post, Island Lake police chief says department is not short-staffed
Island Lake officials are at odds over whether recent police officer retirements and other personnel changes have left the force short-handed.
The debate began in early January when village Trustee Laurie Rabattini used her popular blog to question the stability of the department.
Under the headline "Police Department: Is it stable? Are we safe?," Rabattini referred to unspecified "recent administrative leaves, retirements and resignations" and a "shortage of staff."
"When the police department is understaffed, the safety and well-being of the village is vulnerable," she wrote in the Jan. 8 entry, which generated 153 comments.
Police Chief William McCorkle and Mayor Debbie Herrmann have acknowledged the department has undergone personnel changes, but denied they've had any impact on public safety.
"The streets are covered at all times with three officers and sometimes four," McCorkle said, adding three street officers per shift is historically typical in Island Lake. "The village is covered sufficiently per shift."
A Daily Herald inquiry revealed the department's staffing level has dropped since McCorkle took over in March 2010.
According to data turned over following a Freedom of Information Act request, the department had 28 employees, including 21 full-time, part-time and probationary officers, when McCorkle was named chief.
As of Monday afternoon, the department had 23 employees, including 18 full-time, part-time or probationary officers.
During that roughly 11-month gap, eight officers or dispatchers have left the department through retirement, firing or other means, officials confirmed.
The most recent change occurred Monday when Sgt. Anthony Sciarrone, the department's former acting chief, announced his retirement, effective immediately. Sgt. James Green retired last week, too.
Like McCorkle, Herrmann denied there's a shortage of police officers on the street. She called Rabattini's blog entry "inappropriate."
Rabattini stood by her blog post.
"I don't think a combination of (eight) firings/retirements/resignations in the span of a year (for) a small police department is normal," she wrote in an e-mail to the Daily Herald.
Rabattini's blog -- found at theblog1.com -- has generated plenty of controversy, both before and after she was elected to the board in 2009.
During her campaign early that year, the blog's comment sections regularly were filled with mean-spirited remarks by mostly anonymous readers who attacked Rabattini, her allies and her political opponents.
In July 2009, Rabattini took heat for referring to fellow trustee Don Verciglio as the "village blog Nazi" and publishing e-mails Verciglio wrote that were critical of the content in the blog.
And in April 2010, Rabattini was criticized for comparing Herrmann to Hitler and including a photo of the infamous Nazi dictator in a blog post. She later removed the entry and apologized.
The Jan. 8 blog entry about the police department came about a year after Herrmann placed Sciarrone and part-time officer Fred Manetti on administrative leave for offenses that were unspecified at the time. Manetti later was fired and Sciarrone was demoted to sergeant.
"Following those moves," Rabattini blogged, "a slew of firings and resignations followed."
Rabattini wrote she was concerned about what effect the staffing changes would have on overtime costs.
Toward the end of the entry, she expressed concern about the department being understaffed and made the remark about the public safety being left vulnerable as a result.
According to the data supplied to the Daily Herald by the village, 23 people worked for the police department as of Monday, following Sciarrone's abrupt retirement. That figure consisted of:
• 9 full-time police officers.
• 1 probationary officer.
• 1 officer on medical leave.
• 7 part-time officers.
• 5 full-time dispatchers.
When McCorkle was named chief in March 2010, those numbers were slightly higher. That staffing list provided to the Daily Herald identified:
• 13 full-time officers.
• 1 probationary officer.
• 8 part-time officers.
• 6 full-time dispatchers.
But those two sets of figures don't represent the actual turnover the department has experienced.
In her e-mail to the Daily Herald, Rabattini named nine officers and dispatchers who she said have been suspended, placed on administrative leave, were fired or retired within the past year.
In a telephone interview Monday, McCorkle acknowledged eight of the employees Rabattini identified have left the department and one is on medical leave.
But the reasons Rabattini gave for those personnel changes weren't all correct, he said.
For example, two officers Rabattini identified as being on administrative leave actually had been out because of medical issues, the chief said.
Additionally, a part-time officer Rabattini said had been fired actually retired, McCorkle said.
"Are there people leaving? Yes," McCorkle said. "But it's nothing personal. These are people moving on."
Holes in shift schedules created by departing officers are filled with overtime or by moving personnel around, he said. He said he's even taken complaints in the station at times.
The department soon could have four new officers in the rotation, McCorkle said. One candidate is in the police academy, while the other three are state-certified officers who are awaiting medical tests before they're offered jobs in Island Lake, he said.
"Every person who steps out, we replace," McCorkle said.
Herrmann had strong words about Rabattini's Jan. 8 blog entry.
"I don't know what her purpose is, if she's looking to discredit the village any way she can," Herrmann said. "She's conveying an incorrect image of the village, and it's not good for the residents or the village."
Rabattini remained resolute.
"(Asking) 'Are we safe' is valid when there is so much turnover," she said in her e-mail to the Daily Herald. "Our small police department has had its share of turnover over the years, but nothing like this."