Dart, Robbins in power struggle over village PD’s fate
By CAsey Toner firstname.lastname@example.org November 20, 2013 10:58PM
Cara Smith, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s chief of policy and communications, and a team of sheriff's police administrators meet with Robbins officials on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, concerning the future of the village's police department. Dart announced he was looking to take over command of the village's police department on Tuesday after village officials failed to immediately remove a newly hired internal affairs officer whose policing credentials have been challenged by a state regulatory agency. | Casey Toner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 23, 2013 2:16PM
In August, flanked by village officials and his new police chief, Robbins Mayor Tyrone Ward stood in the village hall and declared a new chapter for his impoverished village, which was still reeling from the revelation that about 200 rape kits, some nearly 30 years old, had languished untested in a police evidence room.
Now, just three months later, Ward and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart are locked in a power struggle over the Robbins Police Department’s future.
Dart claims there are serious problems within the department, and he’s threatening a takeover. A team of police administrators from Dart’s office met with Robbins officials on Wednesday to discuss the situation.
Ward did not attend the meeting but later said the sheriff’s move was an “obvious reach” and boldly declared in capital letters in a news release, “THERE IS NO TAKEOVER.”
“While we had a productive meting this morning in Robbins, it is crystal clear that the current staffing of the department is grossly inadequate based on the needs of the community,” Cara Smith, Dart’s chief of policy and communications, said Wednesday. “The sheriff is going to ensure that the community is protected regardless of who’s in charge.”
Dart announced his plans for the department on Tuesday, as questions swirled about the law enforcement background of Robbins’ part-time internal affairs supervisor, Douglas J. Smith, who quit Monday after a state regulatory agency threatened to charge him for impersonating a police officer and unlawful use of weapons if he stayed on the job.
Smith, 61, of South Holland, carried a handgun throughout his three months as a Robbins police captain even though he did not complete mandatory firearm training as required under state law.
Authorities in Los Angeles, New Jersey and Georgia, where Smith claims to have worked, told Illinois investigators they were unable to find records that he had ever served as a police officer, according to records obtained by the SouthtownStar. Those documents also show that Smith submitted to investigators as proof of his credentials a photocopy of an LAPD badge bearing the number 714 — the badge number of the fictional character Sgt. Joe Friday from the old TV show, “Dragnet.”
Smith was among the new part-time Robbins police officers whom Ward touted during his August news conference at which he pledged to clean up the department.
“My vision was to overhaul the negative image of this department and develop a more transparent department,” Ward said during the news conference. “It’s very relevant to separate the past from our future voyage.”
Cook County sheriff’s police began assisting Robbins police early this year with patrols and homicide investigations due to the village’s lack of funds, which led to the discovery of the untested rape kits.
In his statement Wednesday, Ward said, “We will work together and they (sheriff’s officials) will follow our lead and assist the areas we request.”
Cara Smith questioned Ward’s reaction to Dart’s plan.
“Why those village officials would even attempt to defend their department is confusing to me,” she said. “You would think, as the mayor, you would be absolutely outraged.”
She said she expected to hear back from Robbins officials about the sheriff’s offer Thursday.
Ward did not return multiple messages.
The questions about Smith’s police history surfaced after the Robbins Police Department sought a training waiver for him based on his extensive police experience.
In his resume, Smith claimed, among other things, that he was the “sergeant in charge of special operations and task force on organized crime,” for the New York/New Jersey Port Authority; a commander of operations, south bureau for the LAPD before leaving the force in 1992; and a “Deputy III,” at the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department in Georgia.
An Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board investigator reached out to the LAPD on Oct. 29, inquiring about Smith’s past. He said Smith provided a photocopy of a LAPD badge when he was questioned about his time working for the department.
A Nov. 7 letter from Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck’s office, signed by police administrator Francois Gardere Jr., says the LAPD has “no employment records of this person nor does he have any lawful authority to possess a Los Angeles Police Department badge.”
Theresa Keenan-Dipopolo, chief of the New York/New Jersey Port Authority police, told the Illinois training board that there was no record of Smith ever serving with the department.
The police training agency in Georgia also said it had no record of Smith having worked for the Fulton County sheriff’s police.
Kevin McClain, executive director of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, sent Ward and Police Chief Melvin Davis a letter last Thursday, notifying them that his agency was unable to verify Smith’s law enforcement history.
During a phone interview Wednesday, Gardere said he was “surprised at the extent” Smith took in trying to establish law enforcement credentials, describing his efforts as “shallow and traceable.”
McClain demanded that Smith be removed immediately from any village policing duties or he would face criminal charges, also informing Ward and Davis that they could be charged with official misconduct if they allowed Smith to remain on the force.
Smith said he left the police department four days later.
“I’m not going to be arrested for impersonating a police officer,” Smith said. “I said, ‘I quit.’”
His resume ‘second to none’
Davis said his deputy chief, Hashi Jaco, introduced him to Smith, who appeared to be a solid candidate for the internal affairs position. He interviewed well, and his resume was “second to none,” Davis said.
“Douglas Smith has a silk tongue, a gift of gab,” he said. “I said ‘his resume sounds good, bring me the documents.’ Of course, it was excuse after excuse with that. I just never got the documents.”
Jaco stands by Smith despite questions about a fabricated resume.
“His background was checked like every other police officer who applied for the position he was working for,” Jaco said. “He hasn’t been arrested or like anything else. It came back clean.”
Questioned by the SouthtownStar about his police credentials, Smith claimed he had a “sealed file,” preventing investigators from seeing his police records.
“No one can see it, no one can open it,” he said, declining to explain why the file would be sealed.
Smith said the LAPD badge he presented was part of a plaque the department’s hotel narcotics unit gave to him in conjunction with “a big drug case” he worked on.
“I’m not going to put a plaque with 714 on it and say it’s my badge,” he said. “Everyone knows 714 belongs to Joe Friday.”
LAPD spokesman Bruce Borihan said the department does not hand out commendation plaques to police officers bearing Joe Friday’s badge number.
“You can go to any trophy shop and print out any badge with any number you want,” Borihan said.
Smith shrugged off suggestions that he never has been a police officer prior to the Robbins job, saying he took on the full responsibilities of the job, such as carrying a gun, when he was “sworn-in,” during a village board meeting.
“I’m not trying to impersonate a police officer,” he said. “If you brought me on and swore me in, I’m assuming I’m legitimate.”