Maywood Mayor, Trustee, Use Police Officers as Chauffeurs

Street violence is spiraling, cops are understaffed, village finances are abysmal—but the Maywood mayor and a trustee get police chauffeurs.

The Maywood Police Department is short-staffed and relying on heavy overtime to ensure enough cops are patrolling the streets.

And patrolling has been no simple task in recent months.

Aside from the violence that’s included nine homicides so far in 2011 – the latest involved a 14-year-old girl who, while sleeping early Tuesday in her garden apartment, was crushed by a car that hit the building after the driver was shot – the village’s finances have been so precarious that municipal credit cards aren’t always getting paid on time. So officers trying to fuel up squad cars at local gas stations have, on a number of occasions, faced the embarrassment of being turned away at the pumps, sources told the Better Government Association.

But if the police force is wanting for more resources, the village’s mayor and at least one trustee aren’t.

Both have had police officers assigned to them over the past two weeks for questionable purposes, with Mayor Henderson Yarbrough getting two police bodyguards for an event honoring military veterans, and Trustee Audrey Jaycox getting chauffeured by a cop to and from Midway Airport as part of a trip to New Orleans for a conference, the BGA has learned.

Both public officials say they did nothing improper, nor did they waste taxpayers’ money or squander public resources.

Tipped to Jaycox’s ride in advance, the BGA videotaped her getting picked up at Midway on Sept. 11 by a beefy Maywood officer who opened her door, picked up her bags and drove her home in a sport-utility vehicle owned by the village.

Reached later in the week on the telephone, Jaycox defended the practice, saying it’s cheaper to have a police officer drive her to the airport for village-related trips than to have the taxpayers cover the cost of parking at the airport or a cab.

"I am very cautious [about] the resources utilized, in terms of monetary issues," said Jaycox, who serves as chairwoman of the village’s finance committee.

Jaycox said the practice is fairly common, and is initiated when she calls Police Chief Tim Curry with a request for a ride, and he assigns somebody.

If resources are too tight, Jaycox said she’s sure Curry would say so.

Told of the situation, a frequent critic of village leaders and a recent addition to the village board, Trustee Edwenna Perkins, said she can’t fathom why the police would handle travel for an elected official – especially given the sorry state of Maywood’s finances, and the need for more police in the neighborhoods.

"You can get a cab, or get a limousine and put in to get your money back, that’s how that works," Perkins said. "No. No. No. No. No. That’s stretching it. They don’t understand what an elected official is. . . . You’re serving the people, the people don’t serve you."

As for Yarbrough, Perkins said the mayor should only get a police detail under very limited circumstances, for instance if there’s been a threat.

"Nobody’s going to bother him, you don’t have to worry about that in the village of Maywood," Perkins said. "I don’t understand why an elected official would need an escort, unless you’ve been threatened. And I doubt very much that’s happened."

Curry said there have been no recent threats against Yarbrough or other officials in the working-class near west suburb, so far as he knows.

But he emphasized that police are not assigned to the mayor full-time.

"The mayor does not have a detail watching him wherever he goes, just at special events" when there are lots of people around, Curry said, adding the officers are part-time, making up to $16 an hour. "Nobody’s there bodyguarding his house."

So for the officers assigned to shadow Yarbrough at the Sept. 11 event in Maywood memorializing the Bataan Death March from World War II, it "probably cost the village 50 bucks," Curry said.

Even so, one of the people who attended the event, 43-year-old Jennifer Gorr of Carol Stream, told the BGA it was strange and distracting to watch a bodyguard follow Yarbrough as the mayor laid a wreath in front of a tank monument.

"The people who were there were World War II vets, there were piles of Army guys, there were two big old Marines, . . . there was absolutely nothing that was going to happen," Gorr said. "I don’t think any town or city has money to spare on this type of thing."

Another woman who attended the event chuckled when asked whether it was dangerous. "Oh no, no, heavens. Most of the people there wouldn’t have the strength to be dangerous."

The woman added that the mayor was in attendance with his wife, state Rep. Karen Yarbrough (D-Maywood), who is running for Cook County recorder of deeds.

Perkins said she’s seen an officer with the mayor and Karen Yarbrough on Election Day – "Maywood police escort her around." Perkins said she’s curious as to who covered that tab.

Karen Yarbrough told the BGA that she paid for the officers’ time, and they were technically off-duty.

Her husband said with a chuckle: "We’re not that stupid."

Henderson Yarbrough said his bodyguards weren’t just at Sunday’s Bataan event; they were together at several events throughout the day.

"That was just one of the stops: I had a parade in the morning, and again in the evening, so that was an in-between," the mayor said, adding that he feels safe in Maywood, and didn’t request the bodyguards.

"I’m not a Mayor Daley so to speak," Henderson Yarbrough said, referring to the now-former Chicago mayor who has retained a security detail after office, stirring controversy. "I never asked for a security detail. They just told me, ‘This guy is assigned to you when you go to special events.’ . . . It’s always been a part of what the operation has been."

However, he said it’s not common for trustees to get police chauffeurs, and didn’t know Jaycox had gone out of town for a National League of Cities forum.

Curry said officers assigned as bodyguards are "usually" on-duty already, and aren’t called in specifically for a security detail.

The police department is budgeted for 58 officers, but has 54 on the rolls right now, of whom 38 are patrol officers, Curry said. However, there are an additional 10 or so officers who are out because of injuries or other reasons, Curry said, adding he uses overtime to ensure enough cops are on the streets. He hopes to hire five new people fairly soon.

While Maywood has had nine homicides this year, there were three in all of 2010 and two in 2009. But there were much bloodier years. For instance, 20 people were killed in 2003, police figures show.

This article was written and reported by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations, and Senior Investigator Patrick Rehkamp. To contact them, call (312) 821-9030 or email rherguth@bettergov.org.