James Episcopo and Edward Petrak have sat at desks about five feet apart in the lieutenants’ office of the Brookfield Police Department for the past seven years. They’ve hashed out so many police issues and have spent so much time together during that time that each knows how the other thinks.
As of Monday, Dec. 14, however, they’ll no longer be sharing an office, though they’ll still be working closely together to lead the Brookfield Police Department. On Wednesday, Village Manager Keith Sbiral confirmed that Episcopo will be taking over as chief. Petrak will be the department’s deputy chief.
“The biggest adjustment will be not being in the same office,” said Episcopo, who as a lieutenant was in command of the department’s day-to-day operations. Petrak was in charge of administration. “Ed and I have always worked so well together; we’re always kind of one and two.”
Episcopo said during the interview process, which included the department’s three lieutenants, that he and Petrak supported each other and hoped that whoever was named to the chief’s job was able to have the other as deputy chief.
“We kind of think on the same level,” Petrak said. “We’re different personalities, but it’s good to be able to talk through different situations that pop up and give each other opinions without holding back and coming to a good decision.”
The appointment of a deputy police chief reverses a policy implemented in 2010 by former Village Manager Riccardo Ginex. At that time, the department’s deputy chief, Jeff Leh, retired instead of accepting what would have amounted to a demotion to lieutenant.
The decision to phase out the position came during a time of budget cutting across departments in the village administration.
Sbiral said that having a deputy chief in place was critical.
“I think it’s important in every department to have a No. 2 person who’s there when the department head is gone,” Sbiral said. “My philosophy is that it’s important to have that position moving forward.”
Episcopo, 56, who grew up in LaGrange Highlands and graduated from Lyons Township High School, first joined the Brookfield Police Department in 1986 as an auxiliary officer. He was hired as a sworn officer in December 1987 and was promoted to sergeant in 2000. Episcopo was elevated to the rank of lieutenant in 2008.
Petrak, 48, a Riverside native, attended Quigley South High School before getting his bachelor’s degree in administration of justice from Southern Illinois University. Petrak was hired as a Brookfield patrolman in 1990. He was promoted to sergeant in 2003 and to lieutenant in 2006.
Both Episcopo and Petrak have attended the FBI National Academy, an experience they say was crucial in preparing them to step into the department’s top leadership roles.
“It makes you look at a bigger picture of situations, and the academy is really kind of what set us up for this leadership position,” Petrak said. “We brought a lot back from there and we have a lot to share with the department because of that experience.”
Main themes of Episcopo’s philosophy for running the department, he said, involve communication and professionalism.
“Having more discussions together, whether it’s staff meetings and getting on the same page about current events, like about what’s going on in the city [of Chicago], to make sure that we’re critiquing that together and trying to make sure that we run things well enough here that we never have that kind of a spotlight on us.”
With the promotions of Episcopo and Petrak, the structure of the command staff will be adjusted to include the chief, deputy chief and two lieutenants. Lt. James Burdett, who leads the department’s investigations unit, will be joined at that rank by someone who presently is a sergeant, likely in January.
In addition, Episcopo will promote a patrol officer to sergeant and will look to hire two new police officers in early 2016. There are two vacant spots in the department since the retirement of Officer Larry Kutella earlier in 2015 and the forced resignation of former Chief Steven Stelter in October.
“I think we have the strongest group moving forward,” Sbiral said. “There’s a hugely deep bench in our police department. We have chief material for the next 20 years.”