Rockford City Aldermen Say Police Chief Needs More Oversight

- ROCKFORD -- Rockford city aldermen are caught up in the whirl wind of Police Chief Chet Epperson's battle with the police union. The  big question: Who does Chief Epperson have to answer to?

"Who should the police chief be held accountable to?" asked Christie Nicks, Eyewitness News.

"I think it's not a simple answer," replied Ald. Tom McNamara, 3rd Ward.

And the judge ruling in Chief Chet Epperson's restraining order hearing didn't think so either. He shot down Epperson's motion to keep the Police and Fire Commission from investigating him, and rejected the chief's claim he is only accountable to the mayor.

It stems from a complaint filed against him by the police union, alleging misconduct in an incident involving Rockford NAACP president,  Lloyd Johnston.

But the judge also wasn't clear on exactly who the chief should answer to. It's a problem now plaguing Rockford aldermen.

"I think he should be held accountable to the police and fire commission," said McNamara. "I think he should also be held accountable to the mayor and he should be held accountable to the city council."

Just to be hired as chief, Epperson had to be recommended by the Police and Fire Commission to the mayor, and then the council ultimately gave him the nod of approval.

But alderman Teena Newburg says he needs more oversight.

"I don't feel at this point he's being held accountable for his actions, I really don't" said Newburg, 9th Ward. "That's where I see a problem."

The problem she says lies in the fact that Chief Epperson doesn't feel he should have to answer to anyone but the mayor, a point made clear in his motion for a temporary restraining order against the commission. 

"He's first and foremost a police office,r and every police officer is held accountable to the fire and police commission," said Newburg.

Now, Newburg says the aldermen will likely have to clarify legislatively as to how the accountability process works. 

"I'm very sure that the council is going to insist that it be spelled out much clearer in the future so that we don't have this controversy again," said Newburg.

A controversy both Newburg and McNamara say needs to end one way or another.

"I don't necessarily care about this particular instance, I care about the larger picture," said McNamara. "We've had 8 years of controversy, that has to stop."

"I think Chief Epperson is not the person that should be our chief, I'm sorry."

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