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Wednesday, June 10, 2009 01:56 pm

Boy wonder

Young state police director changes troops’ attitude, but not much else

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It’s been less than three months since Jonathon Monken became director of the Illinois State Police, but already he has jolted the agency. Which is sort of what troopers were hoping he would do, because dang, the place needed a good shake-up. In fact, it was the prospect of just such a joggle that persuaded road-weary badgers to give Monken — a 29-year-old Iraq veteran with a degree from West Point but zero law enforcement experience — a chance. After they got over the initial shock of having a boss younger than their duty belts, they bought the idea that his youth might signal a fresh approach, that his top-notch military training might have endowed him with wisdom and integrity [see “Born leader,” March 26].

But on June 2, Monken rolled out his grand restructuring of ISP — “to streamline functions while increasing efficiencies and effectiveness,” according to the e-mail he sent to ISP’s 3,600 employees — and everybody from the lowliest road dawgs to the brass howled. Late last week, I talked to a diverse half dozen ISP badgers (some active, some retired), and their reactions spanned the short spectrum from disgusted to outraged. I found myself holding the phone away from my ear.

“I was all for giving the guy a shot. He’s new, he’s gonna come in, surround himself with some good people. But this guy hasn’t changed a thing!” one recently retired man ranted. “He has only made it worse!”

Monken, in a telephone interview Tuesday, talked cheerily about his decision to close one command and merge its remnants into another, and to install a new layer of executive officers to oversee operations, logistics and personnel, calling it a “helpful correction to how the chain of command is organized to bring it close to what a military chain of command looks like.”

What upsets the troops, though, isn’t a particular change that Monken has made; it’s that he hasn’t made any real changes. Sure, the new chart includes a few promotions and a demotion or two, but the names echo the previous organizational tables, even the blemished apples. Commander Rich Woods, for example — caught in 2005 on videotape punching a customer at a Blockbuster Video store — gets to keep his statewide position over investigative support. Jessica Trame, whose uncle, Bill Cellini, has been indicted on federal felony charges, keeps her prestigious Chief of Staff position. Everybody I talked to described this “restructuring” as a mere shuffle of the same cards.

What really ticks them off is what they perceive as the clear influence of Chuck Brueggemann, the longtime first deputy director. The troops disdain him as a political player who never spent any significant time working the road — a man who “never paid his dues,” they say — who has risen to become second in command and the highest paid person at ISP. For the same reason, the troopers are flabbergasted that Luis Tigera — another badger with a perceived dues deficit — received an express elevator ride up from Region 1 Commander to Senior Policy Advisor. One notable demotion was Greg Muller, from deputy director down to chief of logistics, a lieutenant colonel position. Muller, my sources say, had a reputation for standing up to Brueggeman.

My favorite line in Monken’s edict is this sentence: “I am also renewing our agencies [sic] commitment to intelligence.” It is not only ironically ungrammatical (he meant agency’s); it also embodies the very concept that upsets the troops. Monken’s main demonstration of his supposed re-dedication to intelligence is the creation of a “Chief of Intelligence” to preside over the Statewide Terrorism Intelligence Center (known as STIC) as well as agents and field analysts assigned across the state. Although such an umbrella overseer isn’t necessarily a bad idea, he gave this plum post to a civilian (analyst Aaron Kustermann), and you can probably guess how happy ISP officers are about the idea of taking orders from a guy who has never made a traffic stop — but oh yes, just happens to be a close friend of Brueggemann’s.

Monken says he made these decisions after meeting individually with each exempt employee and evaluating them during his first month on the job. “I also took the input of all the deputy directors,” he says. Brueggemann is on vacation and not available to comment.

On Wednesday, Monken embarked on a tour of ISP district headquarters around the state, planning to visit one per week through year’s end. An online blog called ispeeved, where troopers have been wailing about the revamp, predicts few badgers will confront the director in person, but instead give him the cold shoulder treatment. “I’m afraid when Jon Boy makes his rounds he is going to think he’s in the Wild Wild West . . . in ghost towns that is,” wrote one anonymous poster.

Monken has not yet been confirmed by the Illinois Senate. My sources say he was in like Flynn, until he revealed his musical-chairs plot. And now?

“Will he be confirmed? I sure as hell hope not,” one senior staff member told me. “I think a lot of troopers had very high hopes that he would do very good things. He’s pretty personable, seems to be a nice upfront kind of guy, and this blew everybody away. Now I think everybody’s going to go to their senators and say: If you wanted change in the state police, this wasn’t the way to get her done.”

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.

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