No increase in resident complaints after Elgin police train community advocates
The number of complaints lodged against Elgin police officers remained stable in 2018 compared to previous years, even after the department trained "community advocates" to help people feel more comfortable with filing them.
There were 11 complaints against sworn officers and one against a community service officer last year, according to information obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. Only one complaint was sustained after internal investigations that included interviews and review of body camera and squad car video.
Officer Roberto Soberano received a 15-day unpaid suspension as per union agreement in April for behavior including insubordination and solicitation of favorable acts, documents show. The complainant was a woman who got a ride home from Soberano after a police call in January 2018. Soberano's supervisor told him to video record the encounter but Soberano turned off the recording before she exited the car, and they later met up in a Dunkin' Donuts parking lot when he was off duty. The woman said she thought the officer could help her with her problems; she said the officer asked to kiss her, which she did not allow, documents state.
After she filed a complaint, the woman said, Soberano asked her to withdraw it.
Soberano told his supervisors he never attempted to coerce or intimidate the woman, and attributed some of his choices to her emotional and mental state. Documents from the inquiry include screenshots of text messages he sent her.
Soberano, a 13-year veteran, declined to comment for this story.
"Officers need to be mindful of the professionalism that is required of them, regardless if they are on duty or off duty," Police Chief Ana Lalley said.
In 10 complaints, the officers were either exonerated, meaning they followed policy and procedure, the complaints were deemed unfounded, meaning the alleged behavior didn't happen, or not sustained, meaning there wasn't enough evidence. One complaint is still being investigated.
The department trained about eight "community advocates" in the aftermath of a fatal shooting by police in March, when some residents said they had been discouraged from filing police complaints over the years. The advocates help residents go through the complaint process, Lalley said.
"If people are not comfortable coming to us, they can go to somebody in the community who's familiar with the process," she said. "There are many, many avenues to file a complaint. We make it as easy as possible."
Community advocate Marcus Banner said the group received up to 10 calls since May. "Every call doesn't warrant a complaint or going through the whole process. I talk to people, I listen, and I try to look at it objectively," he said. "It's definitely a good thing. It has emboldened people to step forward and say how they are feeling."
For more information on the process visit cityofelgin.org/1455/Employee-Complaints.
The 2018 complaints include three from residents who said they were stopped due to racial profiling, but police said they had probable cause such as improper lane usage or a broken taillight. Two people said officers used excessive force during arrest; police deemed it appropriate use of force and in one case said officers showed restraint by not using a Taser.
A group of people who demonstrated against racism after the shooting of resident Decynthia Clements said an off-duty officer intentionally blew a cloud of black exhaust at them while accelerating past them. The department investigated by videotaping the officer's truck during acceleration. The smoke remained consistent throughout, police said, and the complaint was deemed not sustained.
Elgin has about 180 police officers and an estimated 112,000 residents. Police received 53,519 emergency 911 calls and 191,826 nonemergency calls last year, Lalley said. "Out of all these contacts that we have with people, we had 12 external complaints," she said. "Our officers do a professional job in the work that they do every day that I appreciate as the chief ... We do have a good department and we hold people accountable."
Eleven complaints were filed by residents against sworn officers in 2017, and nine in 2016.
Last year, there were also 38 police complaints generated internally, including 23 incidents of damage to squad cars, plus other issues like tardiness or not showing up for duty, Lalley said. Thirty-three were sustained and five are still being investigated, she said.
Officer Mirko Lopez got a three-day unpaid suspension for failing to show up for work and sleeping in his car, and community service officer William Homeier got a one-day suspension after a sally port and squad car antenna were damaged when he was "goofing off" with new equipment, documents show.
Sgt. Matt Udelhoven got a written reprimand for failing to investigate downtown business owner Kevin Echevarria for unnecessarily pulling a fire alarm at 51 S. Grove Ave. during Nightmare on Chicago Street in October, documents show. Police looked into it after residents contacted the department and Echevarria was cited with disorderly conduct under city ordinance.
When asked if Echevarria got special treatment because his brother is a police sergeant, Lalley said, "No. Absolutely not."
Udelhoven said he didn't pursue charges -- potentially a Class 4 felony -- because fire officials didn't request arrest and because there were multiple other officers on the scene, documents show. Udelhoven's supervisor recommended a verbal reprimand, but Deputy Chief Al Young increased that to a written reprimand and Lalley agreed.
Lopez, Homeier and Udelhoven did not respond to requests for comment.
All Elgin police officers have worn cameras for about a year and the department conducts monthly random checks to ensure cameras are used properly, Lalley said.