KANKAKEE — Lt. Robin Passwater is Kankakee’s newest police chief, but his nomination was not confirmed easily or without strong opposition.
The 8-6 nomination vote also broke along racial lines. All eight Kankakee City Council members supporting Mayor Chris Curtis’ nomination of Passwater were white or Hispanic. The six voting against the nomination were black.
Passwater, 53, of Bourbonnais, a member of the city police for 31 years, succeeds Chief Frank Kosman, who was not retained by Curtis.
Initially, all the city department leaders were slated to be approved at the same time during Monday meeting, but a request to pull Passwater’s nomination out and be acted upon separately was made.
Once the other nomination were approved, several council members — chiefly Carl Brown and Fred Tetter, D-7; and Cherry Malone Marshall and Mike Prude, D-1 — lead the push for a nationwide search to find the city’s newest police chief.
Also voting against Passwater’s nomination were Carmen Lewis, D-5, and Mike Cobbs, D-6.
Voting for the appointment were: Kelly Johnson, D-6; Victor Nevarez, D-5; Jim Faford and Danita Grant-Swanson, R-4; Larry Osenga and Dave Crawford, R-3; and Mike O’Brien and David Baron, D-2.
In addition to a brief stint as acting police chief, Passwater has served as deputy chief and investigations commander.
Regarding his residency, Passwater noted he will not be moving into the city. He said his commitment to the city has never been in question. In regard to his command staff, Chris Kidwell will serve as deputy chief and Passwater said he hopes to have patrol and investigation commanders in place in the upcoming days.
After the meeting, Passwater said he and every officer will do everything within their ability to serve and protect the community. He said the department has the task of dealing with people who are not making life better here in most cases.
He said the force has to do things that are often difficult.
“We can’t just be report-takers,” he said.
“Our officers will do anything for this community. Some aldermen see it different,” he said.
He said there could be some breakdown in communication between those council members and the police administration.
“What do they see as going on?” he said.
While there may have been questions or concerns regarding Passwater’s ability to lead the police department, the council members who ultimately voted against his nomination wanted a nationwide search conducted. The city performed a nationwide search which lead to the hiring of Kosman.
Brown, the council’s most-senior alderman and the chairman of its Public Safety Committee, said the city needs a chief who can relate to everyone — referring to Hispanics, blacks and whites.
“It will not happen under him,” Brown said. “This [appointment] will not bring us together. ... This appointment will divide us. You don’t want to start your administration that way.”
Those opposing Passwater indicated he could serve as acting chief while a search is being conducted. But that did not sway Curtis nor the other eight council members.
Curtis said the city is experiencing considerable public safety unrest. He said he wanted a chief who could “hit the ground running” to begin crafting strategies to gain greater control on crime.
Curtis said all department leaders have been put on notice that he wants to see results and if results are not coming within the first several months to a year, changes will be made.
Osenga, a former longtime member of the Kankakee Police Department, said Passwater “is the guy who will turn this back around. ... This is the guy we need. He’s a phenomenal police officer.”
A chief point of contention regarding Passwater’s appointment was his approximate one-month tenure as acting police chief in the spring 2017. He was appointed to the position following the retirement of then-Chief Larry Regnier.
Passwater, however, resigned his position on June 1, 2017. The council members opposing his appointment said such conduct did not serve the city well and that action has not been forgotten.
Brown said if a nationwide search led the council back to Passwater, then he would be their choice.
“I’m not talking about excluding him,” Brown said.
“He’s not a fit,” Prude said.
Tetter, a vocal proponent of city employees living in the city, noted Passwater is a Bourbonnais resident.
“Leadership needs to be here to feel the impact” of what is taking place in the city, he said.
Many of the city’s department leaders are not city residents.
Tetter noted the difficultly just-defeated Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong had in getting her police chief choice put in place. Her candidate, Price Dumas, never was voted into the position as he served from June 2017 to August 2018 as the interim police chief.
“We were just here,” Tetter said, adding that the council stepped in and denied Wells-Armstrong’s requested appointment.
Tetter reminded the council of the racial turmoil taking place across the country.
“We have to do this right,” he said. “If he’s determined to be after a national search, then so be it.”
Curtis stated again that Passwater was the best choice for the job and he can hit the ground running.