Rockford’s Epperson is new police chief

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114486997619074.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jason Carson Wilson’, ‘New Rockford Police Chief Epperson is sworn in at the April 10 City Council Meeting.’);

The police chief has a familiar face.

Rockford Deputy Chief of Police Chet Epperson was introduced as the department’s new leader during an afternoon press conference April 10.

Epperson became the department’s new leader immediately following his swearing-in ceremony during the April 10 City Council meeting.

The new police chief will earn $114,000 a year.

“I’m just excited and thrilled. It’s a sense of accomplishment,” Epperson said, as the new chief reflected on starting as an 18-year-old cadet and assuming his new role.

Epperson replaces retired Rockford Police Chief Steve Pugh and interim Police Chief Dominic Iasparro. Depending on who’s asked, Epperson has 23 to 26 years of experience in the department.

Epperson said, during the press conference, he had 26 years of law enforcement experience.

According to a city press release, he’s been with the department for 23 years. His secretary, after some research, said Epperson has been with the department for 24 years—21 years as an officer and three years as a cadet. Previous experience includes serving as a Lake Forest Police Department patrol officer for two years.

He’s served as Deputy Chief of Administration since 2003.

“I want to congratulate Chief Epperson for rising to the cream of the crop,” Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey said, adding that the selection process took some unexpected turns.

Morrissey was referring to David Purdy’s selection as the new police chief and subsequent withdrawal, when his background check was completed. Making the first round of selection more transparent necessarily may have led to the initial misstep, he said.

Epperson said he’s ready to make some changes. “I’m looking forward to professionalizing the department,” he said.

Guiding the department through the accreditation process and improving the department’s data and records management system will be among his goals, Epperson said. But he stressed he won’t be a one-man band. Epperson said he and the department would work together to make those goals reality.

His goals, Epperson said, will be guided by the “6 Ps”: Partnerships, Prevention, Problem-Solving, Personnel, Progress and Porches.

Epperson said he aims to make residents feel safe enough to sit out on their porches.

City Police and Fire Commission Chairman Jim Powers said he was happy the new leader is coming from the department’s current ranks. Powers said Epperson shouldn’t be regarded as second best, despite being passed over in favor of Purdy.

“Chet has excellent credentials. He did the first go around,” he said.

He acknowledged, based on three town hall meetings held in September 2005, voters said they wanted the new chief to come from outside the department. Powers stressed the Commission cast a wide net before making its ultimate decision.

“Rockford Police Department has shown we are qualified to play in the big leagues. This was a nationwide search,” he said.

Fellow Commissioner LoRayne Logan said her hiring experience gave her a sixth sense regarding Epperson.

“When I do an interview, I know when I’ve got a winner. Our top is emerging from within,” Logan said.

Epperson got the nod by a 2-1 vote, with Commissioner Henrietta Dotson-Williams voting no. Dotson-Williams explained her decision.

“My vote is not against (Chief Epperson) or the department,” she said, adding that she respected both Epperson and the office. But Dotson-Williams said she wanted to see some change. She refused to comment about which candidate she supported.

“I guess I see myself an agent of change,” Dotson-Williams said.

She said she looked at crime rates and digested the input from town meetings, deciding the department needed fresh eyes.

“Let’s try something different,” Dotson-Williams said.

While she said she supports the chief, Dotson-Williams said his “porches” concept will take time to come to fruition.

“I hope we can sit on our porches at some point. But, right now, we can’t,” she said.

Morrissey said he was pleased a new chapter in the city’s history could begin.

“It’s a wonderful position to have filled,” he said, adding that a new Community Development Department director could be named soon.

According to Morrissey, some aldermen have been interviewing finalists.

Epperson and wife, Rita Pirrello Epperson, are the parents of 5-year-old Anthony and 2-week-old Gianna. Pirrello Epperson is a RBC Dain Rauscher broker.

Ald. Ann Thompson (D-7) and Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13) did not attend the City Council meeting.

From the April 12-18, 2006, issue

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