FOX LAKE – The release of Lt. Joseph Gliniewicz’s personnel file last week not only highlighted a series of disturbing misdeeds by the officer, but it underscored a village and police leadership that for years either overlooked his transgressions, or simply ignored them.
The files make clear some village officials knew, or should have known, about Gliniewicz’s actions, but still promoted him. Allegations of sexual harassment, threatening behaviors and problem drinking are just a few of the offenses in his 264-page personnel file released to the Northwest Herald in response to an Oct. 13 open records request. Many of the documents contained within were written directly to city officials, or signed by former police chiefs. His promotions also went through a police commission.
Even with the allegations against him, Gliniewicz routinely received expanded responsibilities at the police department. He died with the rank of lieutenant.
“How does a guy like this get promoted?” said Dave Bayless, village of Fox Lake spokesman. “It’s a failure in leadership.”
A leadership that is no longer in Fox Lake, he added.
Michael Levine is a law enforcement consultant and retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent who has reviewed the hiring practices in federal law enforcement agencies as well as local police departments.
Levine said rogue cops are all too common. So is promoting them.
“All he had to have is one friend, and he’s promoted,” Levine said. “Just cozy up to one boss, and he’s promoted. This is common in all departments. The cream does not always rise to the administrative surface.”
Hired in 1985, Gliniewicz eventually was promoted to sergeant in May 1999. A recommendation for his promotion was signed by Margaret Paull, who was then the secretary for the village’s Fire and Police Commission. She currently is a commissioner. Paull did not return phone calls, and two other commissioners – Michael Trinski and Joe Ravagni – also could not be reached. According to recent commission meeting minutes, they indicated they would not speak to the media.
Paull, at the time, wrote Gliniewicz’s advancement was based on written scores, an oral interview, his years of service and performance evaluations by then-police Chief Edward Gerretsen.
Generally speaking, police review boards are run fairly similarly, Levine said. A group of residents is appointed to conduct the hiring, firing and promoting of officers. They’re often tasked with investigating resident complaints.
“You have a bunch of citizens who have absolutely no experience in police work,” Levine said. “Especially in a little towns. … That’s how a guy like that can surface.”
Early on, Gliniewicz showed signs of trouble. A 1988 report indicated officers found him passed out behind the wheel of his truck. The engine was running at full throttle with his foot on the gas. In that incident, officers towed his truck and drove him home. Gliniewicz reported the truck stolen the next day, the report said.
Other incidents of him being late for work, calling in while drunk, or missing important meetings surfaced in the beginning of his career – offenses that would get most officers fired in other departments, city officials admitted.
Gliniewicz was promoted to lieutenant despite a sexual harassment lawsuit in which a former police officer said she gave Gliniewicz oral sex in exchange for job protection. The lawsuit, filed in 2001, eventually was dropped, but Gliniewicz was suspended for 30 days and ordered to attend sex addiction counseling.
Meanwhile, he advanced through the ranks. Gliniewicz was made lieutenant in charge of patrol in 2006, a position appointed by the police chief.
Gliniewicz once led the department’s communications center. It’s there that a dispatcher complained Gliniewicz told her he would put “bullets in her chest.” She later reported he brought in a gun to the dispatch center and “cocked it,” which she believed was a move to intimidate her.
Later in 2009, anonymous members of the police department wrote to then-Mayor Cindy Irwin describing a tense atmosphere created by Gliniewicz. Among their grievances, they accused him of grabbing several women’s breasts at a Christmas party, getting a tattoo while on duty and paying for it by using a gift certificate donated to the department, heavy drinking, intimidating others and misusing police equipment.
The letter claims former police Chief Michael Behan took a “head-in-the-sand approach” to dealing with Gliniewicz. It’s unclear what, if any, discipline Gliniewicz received as a result.
Every Fox Lake official who returned phone calls for this article said questions about Gliniewicz’s advancement in the department should be referred to Behan, or other city officials at the time, who could not be reached for comment.
Currently, the Fox Lake Police Department is run by an interim chief and deputy chief on loan from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. A nationwide search for a new police chief began in August with Behan’s retirement. When he retired, Behan had been placed on paid administrative leave because of a separate investigation into how he handled an unrelated investigation into his and another officer’s actions in December.
In the meantime, village officials said they want to move past the Gliniewicz saga, and they are undergoing a complete overhaul of the department. Village Administrator Anne Marrin, whom Gliniewicz targeted when he tried to order a hit or set up for an arrest, talked about the “lax” policies and procedures at the department when she began looking at their operations in 2014. She said there weren’t proper channels for discipline or for reporting superiors.
“I just think they didn’t really know the right way because it’s been embedded in them that this is how it’s done,” she said.
Mayor Donny Schmitt also noted some changes need to be made within the department.
“We’re doing a complete audit and independent investigation of the department, and policies and practices, and we’re finding out they there needs to be change,” Schmitt said, but he would not elaborate on specific changes.
Moving forward, he noted the need to regain the public’s trust.
“One bad police officer doesn’t make the entire department,” Schmitt said. “There’s good men and women working at the department putting their lives on the line every day for the community.”