Schaumburg leaders says officers' arrests shouldn't taint entire force
The Schaumburg Police Department is the first and longest accredited law enforcement agency in Illinois, having worn that badge of professionalism since 1986.
What impact Wednesday's arrest of three officers on multiple drug conspiracy charges, along with well-publicized stalking claims against Police Chief Brian Howerton, will have on that status and the department's reputation remains to be seen.
As we are all aware, this is a difficult time for the members of the Schaumburg Police Department. As the Chief of Police, I will be making my way around the police department as time permits to answer any questions you might have. Please understand that I only learned about the investigation and arrests yesterday afternoon, so I am still gathering facts about what occurred. In addition, we need to be responsive to the community and the media. I ask that all members of the police department walk with your head held high as this situation is not indicative of the good men and women that serve the Village of Schaumburg. Please continue to provide exemplary customer service and remain professional at all times. Be cognizant of the fact that we are going to be watched even more closely as we go about our business. If anyone needs assistance in coping with this situation, please advise your immediate supervisor. The Village of Schaumburg has a helpful employee assistance program through Workplace Solutions as needed.
Howerton said he doesn't believe the accusations against officers John Cichy, Terrance O'Brien and Matthew Hudak should reflect upon the good work being done by other members of the department.
And that was his message to the department Thursday, through both an email and conversations with employees.
"I ask that all members of the police department walk with your head held high as this situation is not indicative of the good men and women that serve the Village of Schaumburg," Howerton's email reads. "Please continue to provide exemplary customer service and remain professional at all times."
He also told the officers to assume the department would be under greater public scrutiny.
Schaumburg Village Manager Ken Fritz released a public statement Thursday afternoon saying the village will fully support prosecution efforts against the three officers and is conducting its own investigation while they are on administrative leave.
"It is very disappointing to learn that three Schaumburg police officers are alleged to have broken the very laws they were sworn to uphold," Fritz wrote. "But, it is important that our community understands our commitment to hold officers that break the law fully accountable.
"We give police officers an enormous amount of authority because they play an important role in keeping our families and communities safe," Fritz wrote. "By and large, we trust that officers will use that authority to make a positive impact on the communities they serve. We know that is the case 99 percent of the time.
"But whenever we learn that officers have broken the law, as has been alleged today, we view it as a betrayal of the trust our community puts in them," he concluded.
Fritz later said it would be wrong for anyone to connect Howerton's recent personal issue with that of the three officers' arrests.
The arrests came just two days after Howerton was cleared this week of criminal wrongdoing after a Cook County State's Attorney's investigation into claims he had stalked, harassed and intimidated an ex-girlfriend during and after their 18-month relationship.
But Howerton's conduct and the well-publicized allegations remain under investigation by the village's Office of Professional Standards.
"I don't think you look at those two together," Fritz said. "They're totally separate. They're just not related."
Nevertheless, village Trustee Frank Kozak, who chairs Schaumburg's public safety committee, said he plans to talk to Fritz about how to insure the police department's "great track record" doesn't get ruined in the public's eyes.
"I'm going to get some definitive answers," Kozak said.
He added that while people he's talked to are aware of the proximity of the two recent scandals, they've all expressed sympathy for Howerton rather than criticism.
Mayor Al Larson said that while some will lump all the issues together, he has confidence that the situation is being handled professionally.
"I think the only comment we can make is that we have a fine police department, and we're going to continue to have a great department even after all of this is dealt with," he said. "We had something happen here that was untoward and we're dealing with it."
At a news conference Thursday, DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin said no other Schaumburg officers are suspected of wrongdoing as a result of the investigation that led to Wednesday's arrests.
Berlin said his office would be looking at the evidence in other cases involving Cichy, O'Brien and Hudak. Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's office also will take a closer look at those cases.
Howerton said he doesn't believe Wednesday's arrests will play a role in the department's ongoing effort to earn reaccreditation.
"I don't feel that it should because I don't feel their actions were indicative of the department," Howerton said of the three Special Investigations Bureau detectives. "We will take the appropriate action."
Schaumburg already has provided assessors from CALEA -- the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies -- the data needed for its seventh reaccreditation and is expecting to learn the result in late March. Howerton said the department is in compliance with CALEA's objective standards.
"The isolated actions of these three individuals should not taint the rest of the department's adherence to the CALEA standards," he said.
Although accreditation is not required, it is seen as recognition that the department follows the best practices and highest standards for law enforcement.
CALEA Deputy Director Craig Hartley said Thursday that while he couldn't say the actions of an individual would never affect the reaccreditation process, CALEA is more concerned with departments' processes and process management.
No department could stay accredited if required officers to never make mistakes, but the more important issue is how those mistakes are addressed, Hartley added.
>Tara Garcia Mathewson contributed to this report