Board votes down complaint against Rockford police chief
ROCKFORD – The Rockford Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, on Thursday, voted unaminously that Police Chief Dan O’Shea did not violate the department’s anti-discrimination policy earlier this year.
The decision was made during a hearing at City Hall, held to determine whether there was probable cause to advance a complaint filed against O’Shea for comments he made in May about 16- and 17-year-olds who commit violent crimes.
“The 16- and 17-year-olds that are running around shooting each other, we’re not wasting our time trying to save them,” O’Shea said at a May 18 press conference. “They’re lost. We’re trying to focus on the 3-, 4-, 5-year-olds all the way up through maybe 12, 13, where we have a chance at saving them and changing their lives and changing the direction they’re going in their life. And we’re only a part of it.”
The chief made the comments while he and Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross announced details about a rash of gun offenses, including homicide, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They need family, they need relatives, they need, you know–friends that will keep them on that path as well,” O’Shea continued. “Seventeen-year-olds that are going around committing murders and shooting at people, well, sorry, off to prison you go. I got nothing for you. Your family failed you up to this point, and there’s nothing we can do for you.”
O’Shea addressed the comments last month and said they were taken out context, sentiments he repeated to the board, adding that he does not discriminated against anyone.
“I do not have a bias against 16- and 17-year-olds,” he said. “I realized some individuals have taken, understood or perceived a few sentences from one of my press conferences and taken, understood or perceived them not as I intended. At the press conference–being the one where the Winnebago County state’s attorney and I were talking about a 17-year-old being charged with murder in the previous days.”
O’Shea went on to list several youth initiatives he’s helped implement and fund on behalf of the department, including a basketball camp and the Explorer program.
“I, along with the men and women of the Rockford Police Department,” O’Shea said, “have been of initiating and instituting and engaging and funding a multitude of programs for juveniles and young adults in this community.”
Several speakers gave comments during public discussion. Some were in favor of O’Shea’s removal. Others were against it.
Hite Ross told commissioners she supports him “totally.”
“I have confidence in his integrity with which the chief does his job because I have had the pleasure of working with him in Rockford since 2016,” she. “However, I have also known him from his previous position with the Elgin Police Department. I don’t have to tell you about this record there. Because you thoroughly reviewed it prior to hiring him. And you determined that he was the appropriate choice to lead the Rockford Police Department. I, and my law-enforcement partners, appreciate his commitment to keeping our community safe.”
Aija Penix, who filed the complaint on behalf of several residents, was disappointed in the board’s decision.
“Ultimately, justice was not served here today,” Penix said. “The lack of accountability is still there.”
Penix filed the complaint after O’Shea refused to apologize for the comments. She said the chief’s address to the board, the only entity with the authority to discipline him, was another refusal to own what he said.
“‘I’m sorry. I said the wrong thing. I apologize for saying that these kids are disposable–that we are are not wasting our time on them. That I did not mean,'” Penix said. “That’s all he would have had to say. But there was none of that. And there’s still none of that.”
More than a dozen protesters were also on hand, using loudspeakers to shout at O’Shea and blast N.W.A’s “F-ck tha Police” as he walked from City Hall to Rockford Fire Department headquarters at the corner of South First and Walnut streets.
In addition to O’Shea’s removal, demonstrators were calling for criminal charges to be dropped against more than a dozen people who were arrested May 30, when a peaceful protest turned violent outside Police District 1.