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Future of police protection in Ford Heights unclear

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

by Gregory Tejeda

FORD HEIGHTS | A former police sergeant in Ford Heights said Monday he is unsure what will happen now that an Illinois appeals court also has ruled against the village's decision to shut down its police force.

Willie Robinson, a former Ford Heights police officer and head of the Metropolitan Alliance of Police Chapter 243, said he's still trying to understand the practical meaning of the ruling made last month.

The opinion released on April 20 upheld an Illinois Labor Relations Board ruling that Ford Heights government acted improperly in 2008. Municipal leaders at that time shut down the Police Department and had the Cook County sheriff's police take over patrols in the impoverished south suburb. Robinson initiated the complaint before the labor board.

"I have no idea what (village officials) will do now," Robinson said. "Things are so messed up with their attorney, their mayor, I don't think they know what they're going to do."

Justice Rodolfo "Rudy" Garcia wrote the appellate court opinion, with Justices Robert Gordon and Stuart Palmer concurring.

That opinion states the labor board "did not clearly err" in its ruling. The board had said any desire to cut costs by eliminating the Police Department was something that needed to be negotiated with Local 243, which at the time represented Robinson and three other officers.

The labor board's ruling said Ford Heights government engaged in an "unfair labor practice" by signing the agreement with Cook County to have the sheriff take over policing.

"The village claims the board committed clear error by determining that the benefits of bargaining outweighed the burdens that bargaining would impose on the village's inherent managerial authority," the ruling reads. "We confirm the board."

Village President Charles Griffin on Monday referred questions about the ruling to the village attorney's office, which was unavailable for comment.

Robinson said he believes village officials are fighting the issue so hard because they want to punish him.

"They don't like me because I'm the one who unionized the Police Department," he said.

The agreement, which is set to expire in June but could be extended, calls for Ford Heights to pay Cook County $3,000 per month, which is the amount of money the village spent on police 10 years ago.

In exchange, sheriff's police maintain a detail of 16 officers at the old Ford Heights Police Department, 1343 Ellis Ave. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has said providing police protection around the clock to Ford Heights costs about $2.4 million per year.



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