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Dixon: Police wrong to weigh in

Says ‘little doubt’ criticisms of Sheriff Varga an attempt to influence outcome

Published: Monday, Feb. 24, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
Former Dixon Mayor Jim Dixon
Caption
Lee County Sheriff John Varga

DIXON – Former Dixon Mayor Jim Dixon says there is “little doubt” that the Dixon Police Department’s leadership is trying to influence the race for Lee County sheriff.

Meanwhile, the police chief defended his department’s position.

Dixon said the city’s commissioner of public safety should act to protect the department’s reputation.

“I don’t think our police department should be giving the impression that it involves itself in partisan politics, let alone the impression that it wants to take control of the sheriff’s office,” Dixon said in a letter to the editor that appeared in Saturday’s editions of Sauk Valley Media.

“It has been a nonpartisan force operating without political influences and, consequently, has had the highest standing in our community,” Dixon wrote. 

The sheriff’s office, he said, should be independent and not “beholden” to the city police.

Dixon called Varga, who was elected sheriff in 2006, an “excellent public servant” who is experienced, efficient and independent.

Last week, Dixon police Lt. Brad Sibley, the department’s second-in-command, wrote a letter to the editor saying that the sheriff’s release of information last year in a murder case jeopardized the capture of other suspects. Sibley said he was speaking for himself, not the department.

Police Chief Danny Langloss said he didn’t disagree with Sibley’s letter. 

Both men and city police Lt. Clay Whelan support John Simonton, a Dixon police officer and retired state police lieutenant who is challenging Varga in the March 18 Republican primary election.

In his letter, Sibley said any first-year officer would have known that you never release information about a case when you have multiple suspects at large. 

“[S]heriff Varga might as well have called the other murder suspects and told them to run and hide!” Sibley wrote. 

Varga maintained that Lee County State’s Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller failed to keep his office in the loop, not informing him that the court had sealed the case. 

Assistant State’s Attorney Peter Buh responded that Varga made a mistake in releasing the information to the public about the case.

Varga had no comment about Dixon’s letter.

“That’s his letter. I’m running my race,” the sheriff said. “I’ve been doing the job for the last 8 years. I’ll continue to do the job.”

Public Safety Commissioner Dennis Considine couldn’t be reached for comment.

Langloss said Dixon’s assertion that the police department was trying to control the sheriff’s department was “unfounded” and that deputies and officers had long made their views known on candidates in local political races.

“The real issue here is that Sheriff Varga has refused to work in a collaborative manner with law enforcement, fire and EMS agencies here and across the county,” Langloss wrote in an email to Sauk Valley Media. “To say the sheriff and police department provide a check and balance on each other is wrong. The state’s attorney and the judges provide the check and balance on both departments.”

Police officers, he said, are in the best position to know what is going on and how effective police agencies are.

The former mayor has argued before that partisan politics should be kept out of police departments.

In 2008, after Dixon’s brother, Henry Dixon, won the race for state’s attorney over incumbent Paul Whitcombe, the former mayor decried law enforcement’s role in elections.

Whitcombe had a lot of law enforcement support.

In his letter, Dixon questioned whether it was appropriate for candidates, particularly in campaigns for judge and state’s attorney, to have police officers make public endorsements.

“I’m not talking about expressing opinions as private citizens, such as signs in their yards or postcards to their friends where their status as a law enforcement officer is not used as a means of persuasion,” Dixon wrote. “I mean having candidates line up groups of active-duty police officers to make public, quasi-official recommendations that put the police department or the sheriff’s department behind their candidacy.

“If the state’s attorney is considering bringing charges against you based on a police officer’s complaint, wouldn’t it give a greater appearance of fairness if the state’s attorney didn’t feel he owed his position to that officer?”

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