Des Plaines Chief Gives Retiring Cop Something to Remember

IPSN August 28, 1997

RETIRING DES PLAINES Detective Bill Spyrison was never all that close to the Northwest Suburban municipality’s Chief of Police, Robert Sturlini. In fact, in 32 years of working the streets of Des Plaines, the two veteran cops more or less went their separate ways with Sturlini climbing the departmental political ladder, eventually being annointed Chief, while Spyrison toiled in uniform for 24 years before assignment as a detective.

Even though both men were present at the creation of the Combined Counties Police Association in which their Department was one of the original members, Spyrison was always the union guy who stood up, waved his arms, expressed himself, and raised issues, while Sturlini was most notable for his ability to blend into the departmental fabric after the historic Des Plaines strike of 1969.

THEN, SPYRISON decided to give himself an unscheduled vacation for a few days before his retirement was to take effect. He had accumulated no less than 60 days of unused sick leave and thought four or five days spent casting a hook into the water might result in a trophy-size fish, or at least something to throw into a frying pan. He was ready to “pull the pin,” to begin collecting the pension that every career cop anticipates. For conversational release, Spyrison took with him a fellow Des Plaines cop whose own retirement is so far in the future it probably looks like it won’t happen until another lifetime, some other century.

So starting July 7th, and running through July 11th, Bill Spyrison did what thousands of about-to-retire cops have done for decades: he dipped into his unused sick day account and took some time off. Of course, in order to take the time off, he had to also do what every cop before him has done—he had to fake it, to call in sick, to tell the “little white lie” that has been accepted since police ranks were formed.

IN DES PLAINES, 60 unused sick days accumulated by a veteran cop are worth real money—thousands of dollars—to the officer having them on the books. Returning them to the employer is almost unheard of but Bill Spryson, as he was on his fishing trip, was prepared to do just that with about 55 of those 60 or so days.

If veteran cop like Spryson decides to cash in five of them on a little unauthorized time off, the City still has saved enough money from the left over time to pay legal bills for a favored attorney or, perhaps, send the Chief of Police on a conference held in some enjoyable locale.
IN THIS CASE, however, Chief Robert Sturlini apparently decided it was no time for fooling around but was, instead, time to crack down on a fellow cop who had spent three decades and more of his life’s work making Des Plaines safe for its citizens. The first thing Sturlini did was to line up some top brass and his key point man Lieutenant Jim Ryan, as if Spryison’s young fishing companion was some kind of crazed criminal conspirator, sweat the guy until he confessed, until he told the hierarchy that Spryson had done “the little white lie” that they have all done themselves. Sturlini, like a dazed bull, was outraged. He took umbrage that someone told him a “little white lie.”

Armed with the verbal evidence of the young cop, Sturlini then suspended Spyrison for 10 days, apparently believing he had once again made the streets of Des Plaines safe for women and children by taking the veteran cop to strict draconian task.

SPRYISON brought the case to CCPA. The Union attorney sat down with the City attorney. Spryson conceded to telling the “little white lie” that officers don’t look at as a moral breach; a commonplace usage of sick days before retirement. The two barristers hammered out a document in which the word “whereas” was used about eight times and the legalese of which would do an insurance contract merit. Then, only days before his pension request was submitted, it was decided that the original “sick days” time and the subsequent suspension time should be added to four weeks and one day of vacation time, only then allowing Spyrison to clean out his desk and locker and quietly slip off into retirement.

At the same time Spyrison left his life’s work with the Des Plaines Police Department, a supervisor in that Department who, like Spyrison, had accumulated a couple of months of unused sick days and several weeks of unspent vacation time, left the job with an $18,000 nest egg, plus pension and health insurance.

BUT BILL SPYRISON, even after serious intervention by the union attorney, was not so lucky. After it was all over, the vindictive Des Plaines Chief had figured out a way to cost Spyrison something like $9,000, leaving him with a retirement “nest egg” of less than $1,000. According to Chief Sturlini’s way of adding things up, if you force a veteran cop like Spyrison to use up his vacation time and add to it a10 day suspension period, you can quite literally take about $9,000 out of the cop’s pocket and give it back to the city.

Although Bill Spryison recognizes that his long-time nemisis had the “right” to punish him for his five-day fishing infraction, he regards it as excessive overkill. “We had two guys retire in May,” Spryison recalls. “In the months before they left, one guy, a Sergeant, used up something like 100 accumulated sick days while the other guy, a Patrolman, was able to wipe almost 90 off the books. “

SOME COPS get the gold-plated star when they retire. Some cops get the gold watch. And some cops, like Bill Spryison, get the shaft. Thanks Bobby, you’re a true Chief of Police.