Could Rfd Police Court Fight Pave The Way For Similar Complaints?

Jun 27, 2014

Credit Rockford Police Department

In Rockford, a legal fight is brewing between the police chief and union leaders. A legal expert says the case could have implications on how management disputes in other departments are handled.

The Rockford police union says Chief Chet Epperson abused his power when he intervened during a welfare check at the home of an NAACP official last fall. The union filed a complaint with Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, asking it to discipline the chief.

But Epperson's attorneys say their client did nothing wrong, and that the board has no authority to make a decision on the matter. The attorneys are now asking a judge to issue a restraining order to prevent the board from reviewing the case.

Retired NIU law professor Lorraine Schmall says in most cases, police chiefs are disciplined by the people who appoint them, not an independent commission. She says if the union is successful in court, it could serve as an eye opener in the area of law enforcement management.

"Then suddenly, you have the chief subject to a review by a commission that doesn't have any skin in the game," Schmall said.

The stormy relationship between Epperson and the union dates back several years. In 2007, the rank-and-file gave the chief a vote of no-confidence over his management style.