Police union issues letter, city responds

Editor’s note: The following is a letter written by the Police Benevolent & Protective Association (PB&PA) of Illinois District 6 addressed to all citizens of Rockford. The Rock River Times asked the City of Rockford for a response to postings on the PB&PA's blogs. In response, Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) issued the following statement: "We are aware of the offensive postings and have requested that the blogs be removed and that the union apologize. It is our understanding that these comments are from a small group of officers and do not reflect the professionalism and dedication of the majority.".

To the Citizens of Rockford:

We’re here. On the job. Pledged to serve and protect our community.

While that doesn’t mean that there are not issues affecting police officers that need to be addressed—sometimes publicly—it does mean we do not let our issues affect how we do our jobs.

As most of you are aware, last Friday PB&PA No. 6, the union representing 286 Rockford police officers, held a vote. The issue was whether or not the membership had confidence in the leadership of Chief Chester Epperson.

Of the 286 officers eligible to vote, 282 cast a ballot. Those voting “no confidence” prevailed by an overwhelming margin of 276-6. In other words, fully 98 percent of those voting said loud and clear they have no faith in, or respect for, the leadership of their department.

As citizens, you deserve to know why there is this strife in your department. There is no single answer to the question, but rather it is the result of Chief Epperson’s alienating management style and his decisions on key issues. While by no means a complete list, we offer these three examples:

First is the issue of personnel matters. Epperson has already initiated more internal investigations than the previous three chiefs combined, and the inept way they have been handled has led to over 25 grievances being filed. We believe Epperson is mis-using the discipline process to punish his perceived “enemies” and protect his supporters.

Our second concern is about Epperson’s unwillingness to admit to problems of his making. A prime example is his recent claim that, until the vote of no-confidence, he was unaware of any dissention among the rank-and-file. The truth is he’s known for some time.

An in-house survey he initiated was conducted by Rockford College this past spring. Epperson received the results in May, but because the survey reflected negatively on his administration, he has refused to release the results. We believe the citizens of Rockford, whose taxes paid for the survey, deserve to see this information.

A third, but by no means final, area of concern is the manner in which Epperson has isolated and alienated our department from other law enforcement agencies. He dissolved a 30-year working relationship with the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department, strained relations with the FBI by publicly criticizing their actions in two high-profile investigations and arrests, dissolved the Metro Narcotic Unit, and failed to support joint efforts with the DEA. We believe these relationships are vital to effective law enforcement, and must be re-established.

Since the balloting last Friday, several comments have been made by both Chief Epperson and Mayor Morrissey that deserve our response.

First, is Epperson’s statement that the vote would not change the way he ran the department. What a strange response when 98 percent of your officers say the way you’ve been doing things is ineffectual and detrimental to the department. A good manager listens to what his employees have to say, and works with them to achieve success. “My way or the highway” is no way to run a police department.

Next, is Mayor Morrissey’s statement that PB&PA members were “foolish” for voting, and that the vote undermined their “credibility.” Not only has the mayor insulted the overwhelming majority of his police officers, he has also denigrated a lawful vote. He owes 276 hardworking men and women an apology.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be providing the public and the various news outlets a more detailed look at our concerns. We will also be bringing those concerns to the public in a variety of ways. We’re sure once the facts are known, we will have the citizens’ support of our position.

In the meantime, everyone should rest assured that the men and women of PB&PA will continue to do their jobs, and continue to serve and protect the residents of our great city.

from the Sept. 26 – Oct. 2, 2007, issue

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