Oak Park, River Forest police departments always planning for transitions
Retiring River Forest Deputy Chief Craig Rutz (left) watches as new patrol officers Matt Landini and Ben Ransom (hand held up) were sworn in Jan. 14 by Village Clerk Roma Colwell-Steinke. Also pictured, Commander Jim O'Shea. | Photo by Bill Dwyer
Updated: February 25, 2013 11:11AM
With the retirement of Deputy Chief Craig Rutz last week, the River Forest police lost a department veteran with a large chunk of institutional memory.
Like most critical organizations, police department leaders said they are always planning for turnover, whether that involves replacing personnel at the top or bottom of the ranks.
Over the past decade, the police departments in both Oak Park and River Forest have undergone periods of high turnover.
“With retirements, you’re losing that historic knowledge,” River Forest Police Chief Greg Weiss said. “If that’s not passed on properly, it can create problems.”
Oak Park went through two challenging transitions during the past decade or so. Between 2000 and 2006, Police Chief Rick Tanksley oversaw the selection and training of more than 70 new police officers.
Then, starting in December 2007, Oak Park’s top command staff serving under Tanksley were reduced through cuts and attrition from eight to three — three deputies and five commanders were consolidated to a single deputy and two commanders.
Two deputy chiefs retired and were not replaced, and several commanders retired.
Recently, the village announced plans to add at least one more commander, bring that rank up to three, still below its high point with five officers in that role.
During 2013 budget deliberations, village trustees agreed to earmark funds for a deputy police chief and also authorized the chief to appoint a civilian to a new commander position, most likely in an administrative role.
The recent decisions reverse a four-year trend in Oak Park of cuts and maintaining reduced public safety staffing. Village leaders have cited diminished general fund revenues as a reason for staffing adjustments.
River Forest, which boasts a much smaller force, suits up 31 authorized sworn officers. Its department also has seen a proportional change over the past decade. Only 13 of the 29 current River Forest officers were hired prior to 2000.
Two days before Rutz took of his badge for the last time, River Forest swore in two new patrol officers.
Weiss noted pros and cons to trading experience for youth.
“There’s a trade off,” he said. “You’re losing a capable, experienced officer, but giving an opportunity to other officers.”
Weiss said grooming immediate subordinates to be ready for supervisory and command responsibilities is essential.
Weiss added that he’s comfortable with the state of his department, calling it “a work in progress everyday.”
Rutz said he believes the River Forest department has handled the transition extremely well.
“In my opinion, River Forest has the best group of officers we’ve had in my entire (31-year) career,” Rutz said. “They are just a fine bunch of people. Pretty much everyone wants to do the job.”
Rutz credits the village’s Board of Police and Fire Commissioners with doing an excellent job of selecting first-rate recruits.
Weiss added that another key to keeping a police force motivated is to occasionally rotate officers in and out of assignments. Doing so gives officers opportunities for job enrichment, he explained.
Weiss highlighted officer Seth DeYoung, who was just rotated out of the detective bureau after five years. He stressed that DeYoung wasn’t returned to patrol duties because he wasn’t a good detective, but in spite of it.
Officer Justin Labriola, a decorated veteran patrol officer with a knack for making arrests, has moved into the detective bureau working with Sgt. Marty Grill.
DeYoung, Weiss said, will now be a veteran resource on patrol.
“Now (DeYoung) will take what he knows about detectives and pass it on to fellow officers in patrol,” said Weiss. “It makes a stronger department. There’s not just one or two people with expertise in a certain area.”
Referencing the most recent staffing changes, Weiss said he’d like to work with that current roster for a while.
“I’d like a few years of stability; to mentor everybody,” he said. “It’s not fair to move people up too quickly.
Weiss says he doesn’t have any immediate plans to retire, but he’s working to assure that new leadership is ready when he does.
“I don’t have an end date for now,” he said, “but my goal is to leave the department in good shape.”
As for now, Weiss has a deputy chief slot to fill. And depending who he selects to recommend to the village board, that could open up yet another slot.
“I have someone in mind, but I need to talk to some people first,” he said, mentioning Village Administrator Eric Palm. “I hope to have a candidate announced by the end of the month, maybe sooner.”