By Bob Uphues
For the second time in less than two years a Brookfield police sergeant has resigned amid an internal investigation into his conduct.
Peter Coffelt, who has been a sworn officer of the Brookfield Police Department for 14 years, submitted his resignation on July 31. He had been placed on paid administrative leave during the department's internal investigation beginning June 30.
Police Chief Steven Stelter said the department's investigation resulted from an unrelated conversation police had with a couple of juveniles.
"We took immediate action," said Stelter.
The Brookfield Police department, according to Stelter, did refer the matter at first to the Public Integrity Unit of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.
"Since there was nothing criminal at that time, they were not interested right now," said Stelter. "Now that our investigation is over, we'll shoot everything we have over to them to see if they want to pursue it further."
Asked if a second officer resigning under fire for inappropriate conduct constitutes a trend that raises red flags about the department, Stelter said that to anyone outside the department it might appear that way.
"I'd like to think not," Stelter said. "I think it's a couple of guys who made some bad choices and misused their supervisory authority."
However, changes are on the way and should be implemented after the first of the year, said Stelter, who added he has presented three options to Village Manager Riccardo Ginex.
"There's going to be a restructuring of the department that will address some of those issues," said Stelter. "It can't be business as usual. Something needs to change."
With the recent retirements of two other veteran sergeants, the Brookfield Police Department is short-staffed, and it will be many months before the department is back at capacity.
"I'm short three [officers] immediately," Stelter said. "We have one in the police academy right now and we're in the process of hiring two more. But the next academy doesn't start until October."
Coffelt did not submit a letter of resignation to Stelter, but he did enter into a resignation agreement with the village of Brookfield, effective July 31.
According to the terms of the resignation agreement, Coffelt will be paid for sick time, vacation time, personal time and compensatory time he had already earned and was entitled to according to the terms of the union contract.
In all, Coffelt will walk away with a lump sum payment of $23,102 plus any additional retroactive pay due him when a new collective bargaining agreement is ratified.
Brookfield patrolmen and sergeants have been working without a contract since Dec. 31, 2012, when their previous deal ended. Negotiations have been hung up over the proposed salary increase. Management has called for a 2.25-percent raise. The union wants 2.5 percent, according to Stelter. The matter is headed toward arbitration, said Stelter.
Police and village officials refused to address the reasons for Coffelt's resignation, calling them part of a personnel matter that was exempt from disclosure under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. Officials also would not comment on rumors circulating about the resignation.
The Landmark filed FOIAs to obtain any publicly available records related to Coffelt's resignation. The case was not considered by the Brookfield Police and Fire Commission and was handled strictly internally.
The resignation agreement states that should a prospective employer inquire about Coffelt, the village will provide a "neutral letter" reflecting dates of his employment, his final salary and that he resigned voluntarily. The agreement also states the village will notify Coffelt whenever a FOIA for information related to his resignation is requested.