ST. JOHN — New legal counsel has been appointed to the St. John Police Commission, spurring some mixed reactions from the Town Council and residents.
The Abrahamson Reed & Bilse Law Firm, of Hammond, was appointed after a 3-2 vote Wednesday night.
The firm includes attorney John Reed, who was special counsel to the board during the recent investigation of Police Chief James Kveton. The council ended the investigation in March after Reed reported “there is insufficient evidence to bring any formal charges against Chief Kveton.”
Kveton was accused of harassment and creating a hostile work environment.
Town Attorney Joseph Svetanoff said it is “highly customary” for police commissions to have their own separate counsel to represent themselves.
“So you have a town attorney then you have a separate police commission attorney that handles nothing but the police commission,” Svetanoff said. “This is an annual appointment and this person will fill out until the end of the calendar year.”
Council President Mark Barenie said he had done research looking at Schererville, Merrillville and Crown Point and found those communities had similar arrangements.
“It’s not unique,” Barenie said.
Svetanoff said the entire law firm would be appointed, but Reed would act as the designated legal partner.
“That would be the one I have a problem with,” said Council Vice President Gerald Swets, who voted against the appointment.
Councilman Mike Forbes also voted against the appointment of the law firm.
During his report to the board, Kveton said the police department responded to 582 law incidents, which resulted in 31 arrests and 52 charges last month.
The biggest accomplishment was the arrests in the Shrine of Christ's Passion vandalism case, Kveton said. Four men have been charged for their alleged roles in the Christmastime vandalism that resulted in $80,000 worth of damage.
Additionally, Kveton addressed what he called frequent “information going out on social media that isn’t correct.” This includes police manpower on the streets, overtime and officer pay, he said.
The chief said when he started in 2016, two officers on average were on the street patrolling at a time. Now, up to five officers are on the street in St. John.
“That should be noted that we always did cover at least two officers on the street by either juggling officers around or forcing them to come into work (in 2016),” Kveton said. “We have made huge, huge, huge improvements of our coverage on the street.
“Those changes were based on resolving all the issues that we had both internally and through the injuries of officers and lawsuits and other situations that were going on that have since been resolved – except for the last one, which is still ongoing and involves civil and criminal charges. That officer no longer works for the department, so he doesn’t affect our manpower.”
Retired police commander Michael Fryzel is accused of sexual battery and ghost payrolling. He was charged May 5, 2016, with three counts of sexual battery, five counts of official misconduct, two counts of theft and three counts of battery.
His case was continued for the 20th time in January. The next hearing date is set for Thursday.
Kveton added three years ago, the department authorized special pay for officers who were forced to work due to lack of staffing. At the end of the year, some of that half time was subtracted from officer’s compensation, he said.
“One of the other things mentioned recently was that tenured officers get paid the same at first year officers and that is not true,” Kveton said, clarifying that first year officers receive $27.13 an hour and once they become a first-class patrol officer, that amount increases by $6. All officers are also compensated for overtime.