Jan. 21, 2014
When your primary duties are hiring, promoting, reprimanding and dismissing, “you’re susceptible to being sued,” Crete resident Dale Nelson recently warned a delegation from Monee.
But Nelson, speaking as secretary of Crete’s Police and Fire Commission, said Monee police commissioners can avoid a lot of headaches by being impartial and consistent during interviews and decision-making, and by using outside testing agencies.
Nelson was responding to questions from Monee Mayor Jay Farquhar and Monee police commissioners Syd Dresback and Mickey Bradley during their visit to Crete Village Hall Wednesday. .
(The Monee commissioners, like their Crete counterparts, are unpaid.)
“We are new born,” Dresback said of the group, created after the 2010 census placed Monee’s population at 5,148.
Illinois law requires creation of commissions in any municipality with 5,000 or more residents.
That’s considerably larger than Crete’s population of approximately 2,000 in the 1960s when voters approved creation of the commission in a referendum vote.
Crete Police and Fire Commission Chairman William “Bill” Paul said the beginnings weren’t as organized as some would have liked.
He recalled having to go to one resident’s home to retrieve the minutes of a meeting, which “were in the trunk of his car.”
In those days, the department’s handful of police officers included Russel Caruso, who retired as Monee’s Police Chief in 2011 after 32 years with that department.
Today, Crete’s Police department, headed by Jim Paoletti, includes a deputy chief, four sergeants, a detective, a K-9 officer, 10 full-time patrol officers and seven part-time officers.
Monee’s Police Department, headed by John Cipkar, has two sergeants and 11 full-time patrol officers.
Schooling for Crete’s new hires — reimbursable — costs approximately $2,000.
But Paoletti said that’s not the only cost.
Setting up Anthony LaRocco, Crete’s newest full-time patrol officer, with uniform and equipment was fairly expensive. “It cost a little more than $2,000 to get him down to school,” Paoletti said.
Minimum requirements for officers
New Crete police officers like LaRocco must arrive with at least 66 hours’ experience and an associate’s degree in law enforcement.
Paoletti said that requirement helps “weed out” less qualified applicants — an important consideration when the quantity of applicants goes from dozens to hundreds.
“We’ve had as high as 218,” Paul said.
Applicants must complete a written test, usually held at Crete-Monee High School. They also must undergo a physical test that includes a mile-and-a-half run at Crete-Monee.
The commission creates its primary list of applicants based on how well applicants did on the written exam, Paul said.
Nelson recommended several testing agencies, explaining, “Their tests are bonded” and they are experienced in dealing with litigious applicants.
“It takes you out of the loop,” he said.
Nelson said municipalities typically provide legal representation for commissioners in lawsuits and cover the cost of compensatory damages.
But he warned not to expect help paying for damages levied as punishment.
“If damages are punitive, they’re coming directly out of your pocket.”
But Paoletti downplayed the likelihood Monee police commissioners would be placed in that position.
“You would almost have to be involved in a corrupt action,” he said.
After completing school, new officers undergo a probationary period that includes field training. They have one year to comply with Crete’s residency requirement — living within a 25-mile radius of the village.
Crete police and fire commissioners don’t become involved in the disciplining and termination of full-time officers until after Paoletti has taken several disciplinary steps.
At a specific point in the disciplinary process, “it’s going to end up in your lap,” Paoletti told the Monee police commissioners.
Paoletti retains complete authority in disciplining and terminating full-time officers during their probationary period and at any time for part-time officers.
The Crete commissioners said they listen to comments of village trustees and the police chief, but Paoletti stressed, “Their decisions are independent of me and the village board.”
Non-commissioners, he added, don’t know commissioners’ decision “until they announce it.”
Paul said that, by the same token, commissioners “don’t have anything to do with the daily operation of the police department. A lot of people (mistakenly) think we can ask the chief to ‘put an extra man on Herman Street.'”
Also attending the meeting were Crete Police and Fire Commissioner Jim McPhee, Crete resident Don Seehausen and Monee Deputy Village Clerk Michelle Powell.
Original material copyright 2014 Eastern Will County News; all rights reserved.
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