MOLINE — Robert T. Finney’s main mission as Moline’s interim police chief is to lay the groundwork for whomever the city finds to replace him.
“That’s the primary goal of any interim,” Finney, of Champaign, said Wednesday.
Former Moline Police Chief John Hitchcock and the department’s captains, Trevor Fisk and Brian Johnson, were placed on administrative leave after a Sept. 7 traffic stop in Scott County led to Hitchcock being cited with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, first offense. The captains were in the vehicle with Hitchcock.
In October, Hitchcock retired and then pleaded guilty to the charge. Fisk and Johnson were given suspensions and then returned to duty.
On Nov. 19, Finney began leading the department until Hitchcock’s permanent replacement is found, expected in early 2019. He replaced Moline Police Lt. Dave Gass who was serving as acting chief. City officials said Gass was needed in his original post.
Finney’s tasks will include reviewing the department’s policies and procedures and their enactment on the streets, and determine if adjustments are needed. The challenge as an interim, he said, is assessing the acuteness of any issues. If an immediate challenge is creating liability, an interim should handle it, he said.
Issues such as promotions are better left to the person who will be chief long term, rather than a leader who is only there for a few months, Finney said.
He said that, where he can, he will provide information on practices based on what he has seen at other departments. Doing so doesn’t mean change in Moline, he said, but it will provide the department with perspective.
Finney said part of his job is to help the department’s staff through the transition, so he is speaking with members and listening to their input.
“That’s another important part: sitting down with people,” he said.
Those talks include getting to know Moline’s elected officials and residents, he said. He helped serve dinner at the department’s Thanksgiving Day event in the Floreciente neighborhood. He said he enjoys such community-oriented events.
There are other things for which a department legally requires a chief, Finney said, such as sitting on some groups and signing paperwork such as payroll.
He likes what he’s seen so far at Moline, he said. Captains put in extra hours helping with investigations and other tasks, he said. The whole department pitched in during Sunday’s snowstorm.
“That was good to see,” he said. “I’m pretty impressed with that.”
According to Moline officialss Finney was identified for the job with the help of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. He has more than 30 years of experience in law enforcement, serving as the Carbondale police chief 1999 to 2003 and Champaign police chief 2003 to 2012. Since retiring in 2012, he has served as an interim chief for several departments, including East Peoria and Bloomington.
He has a master’s degree from Western Illinois University and completed Northwestern University’s School of Police Staff and Command, the FBI National Academy and the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development course.
Currently living in Moline, Finney’s salary is a weekly $2,600. He said he likes the diversity of Moline’s downtown and, since he doesn’t like to cook, has been taking advantage of the area’s restaurants.
“There’s just quite a bit to do,” he said.
Finney said his family, including his grandchildren, remains in the Champaign area and he goes back when he can to visit.
“I don’t like to spend a week without seeing them or really talking to them,” he said.
Moline City Administrator Doug Maxeiner estimated the city’s new police chief, once selected, would start by the end of February. Moline is using GovHR, the same recruitment company that aided in Hitchcock’s selection to succeed former police chief Kim Hankins. The firm also conducted the 2017 search that led to Maxeiner succeeding the retiring Lewis J. Steinbrecher.
The search has several stages, Maxeiner said: developing a job profile, advertising the post, assessing and narrowing the field of candidates, interviewing finalists and selecting the new chief. Maxeiner said GovHR will finish taking applications this week and develop a final list of applicants in late December.
“From that list, we’ll select the ones we want to interview, get those scheduled in January, and hopefully get a preferred candidate as a result by the end of January,” he said.
City council action on the appointment would follow, he said, with a few more weeks before the selected candidate starts work.