GRIFFITH | More than 100 residents rallied Thursday’s at the town's Safety Board meeting to protest the ousting of Police Chief Ron Kottka and his second-in-command, Executive Officer Mike Gulley.
Kottka, who has been with the Griffith Police Department for 38 years, and Gulley, a 33-year Griffith police veteran, were demoted to the rank of sergeant during Monday’s Griffith Town Council meeting in a 4-1 vote. The action came in the wake of a recommendation by the Safety Board.
Cpl. Matthew Moore was sworn in as interim police chief. He won’t apply for the permanent post.
Dozens spoke at Thursday’s Safety Board meeting, questioning the board members’ action. They included Kim Arroya, of Gary, who organized the rally using Facebook.
Safety Board President Jim Marker gave the 12 police officers attending the meeting immunity to make comments as residents. Legally, they aren’t allowed to make statements as police officers, Marker said.
A standing-room-only crowd filled the Griffith Town Hall council chambers, quickly exceeding the 82-person occupancy limit. More than 20, including the police officers, were allowed to listen to the proceedings from the adjacent clerk-treasurer’s office.
Marker insisted on courtesy and civility during the public comment portion.
“On Monday night, due to your actions, our police chief and lieutenant were stripped of their positions. To the citizens of Griffith, all the Town Council could provide was an unconvincing claim that this sought to implement a new direction for the Police Department,” Arroya said, reading a prepared statement.
“The question on all our minds at this point is what new direction seemed that radical that you couldn’t trust Ron Kottka and Mike Gulley to establish it?”
Kottka’s wife, Tina, and Gulley’s wife, Tammy, attended the meeting.
“I have one word to say to you – karma,” Tina Kottka told the four safety board members.
Originally, Marker said he wouldn’t answer questions about why the Safety Board made its decision.
However, after comments from several Griffith police officers about deteriorating conditions within the Police Department in the past 18 months, Marker addressed some issues the Safety Board members considered.
One is the 200 percent increase in Griffith’s crime rate in the past year that included eight shootings and four murders, Marker said.
Patrol Sgt. Todd Dawes said rank and file members repeatedly made suggestions about how to address the crime rate.
“These internal issues have been going on for a long time,” Dawes said. “We brought up suggestions and were told, ‘We’re going to do what we want to do.'”
Another issue was a standard operating procedures manual that was assigned to Kottka 18 months ago by this Safety Board but still hasn’t been submitted.
Marker questioned Moore about the status of the standard operating procedures and told the interim chief, “It is imperative that we get that going. It’s been going on for a year and a half.”