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Joliet Police Department looks to restructure amid racial lawsuit

Megann Horstead, Reporter – news@thetimesweekly.com | 8/22/2018, 6 a.m.
The internal makeup of the Joliet Police Department could see structural changes amid a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination. Joliet Mayor ...

The internal makeup of the Joliet Police Department could see structural changes amid a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination.

Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk told The Times Weekly that even as the city decided to leave two full-time positions vacant at a public meeting held earlier this month, the police department could look to go in a different direction.

A revised council memo shows that City Manager David Hales was instructed to fill retirement vacancies for the Joliet Police Department. In a turnaround decision, the city council pulled from its agenda the notices needed to begin the process of filling the positions.

What’s more is Police Chief Brian Benton announced his intent to retire in the coming months.

“It’s something under consideration about changing the administration,” O’Dekirk said. “It didn’t have a reflection on the chief. It’s still being done.”

The decision comes at a time when the city faces a lawsuit alleging that a former officer for the Joliet Police Department was subject to racial discrimination.

“It’s a difficult time for police,” O’Dekirk said. “I think [Benton] did a good job. You hear different things about employees. I had not been told this was going to happen.”

O’Dekirk added, “I don’t know if there’s a good or bad time” to announce one’s plans to step down.

The unfair labor practice complaint filed by former police officer Lionel Allen names several parties, including the city of Joliet, Benton and Marc Reid. Reid is the lieutenant of internal affairs for the Joliet Police Department.

In the complaint, the plaintiff alleges that he was not provided the opportunity to bid on which sector he wished to be assigned to only to be transferred to central cover duty without regard for seniority.

Allen had served as a member of the Joliet Police Department since 1989.

The plaintiff makes the case that he allegedly faced discipline for verbally complaining of racial discrimination and later filing a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Allen was asked to dismiss the EEOC charge and accept discipline to remain employed, the case filing shows. When the EEOC recognized that the city of Joliet was engaging in unlawful retaliation, the charge could not be dropped.

The plaintiff is seeking remedy for alleged financial and emotional harm.

Allen is a member of the Joliet Black Police Officers Association.

The attorney representing Allen did not return a call requesting comment.

“I think that Benton served Joliet to his best,” said Dave Jackson, president of the Joliet Black Police Officers Association. “I believe being able to restructure the department would be useful for the Black Police Officers Association. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the case pending. We have been working with officials.”

He added, “[Benton’s] decision to resign couldn’t have made things right.”

Jackson hopes the case can be resolved quickly.

Benton will continue to work for the Joliet Police Department through Nov. 27.

Benton during his tenure with the Joliet Police Department served five years as police chief and 28 years as police officer.

In an Aug. 8 internal communication addressing all department members, Benton states, “As we have seen a number of key civilian managers, senior officers and command staff members announce their retirement this past year, I feel that the department needs to move forward with a chief that can select a new command staff to help guide him or her though the next several years.”

He added, “I feel that now is the perfect time for that transition to occur.”

When asked if the city will appoint an interim police chief, O’Dekirk said it’s a possibility.

The city intends to conduct an interview process and go on to select another police chief.

“I’ve met with Hales,” O’Dekirk said. “We’ll be in touch with the police union. We’ll address the vacancy like we would any department.”