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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

Whose Police Force is this Anyway??

Updated: Jan 13, 2020

In April of 1938 the police of Bloomington were riled up -- the mayor, Mark B. Hayes, had decided that the police chief should be an appointee of the Mayor. This went against what the police thought was their right under the new civil service law. Tthe civil service laws of Illinois required that Police Chiefs be appointed after duly completing an examination for police chief. So there were two police chiefs in Bloomington -- Clyde Hibbens and L.T. Phillips. Clyde Hibbens was the mayor's choice, and the Mayor felt so strongly about this that he had a special ordinance written up to create this position directly under the mayor and outside the police force. L.T. Phillips had been selected by the Fire and Police Board of Bloomington to take the position, but surprisingly, he had not taken the civil service exam either!

So, when Phillips presented the bond guaranteeing his performance of the duties, it was rejected by the City Council by a vote of 12 to 3. This photo from April 30, 1938 is a brief moment when it was thought L.T. Phillips (left) would be able to take the chair as police chief.

Note the gun casually placed in his back pocket (and the state of those trousers!!!).

It was then that a lawsuit was filed to determine whether the Mayor had the authority to appoint the chief. Of course, the purpose of the civil service exams was to eliminate favoritism from the hiring process, a system of cronyism that had long been a part of government jobs in Illinois.

It was up to Judge C. Chalmer Taylor to hear arguments and make a ruling. It was at the very beginning of 1939 that Taylor's ruling finally came down -- the ordinance created by Mayor Hayes was in violation of the state law and Hibbens was not the legal police chief -- although he had been in the position for six months by that point. After Hibbens filed an appeal of Taylor's decision, it took another ruling of contempt of court to get Hibbens out of the office in March of 1939. Hibbens finally resigned, but then in a surprise move that must have been irritating to Judge Taylor and the public that was financing this legal wrangle, the Fire and Police Board appointed Hibbens to the position temporarily just days after Judge Taylor's ruling.

In April of 1939 the Chief examination was held. Although five men on the force were qualified to take the exam, none of them did(!). Two men from outside the force were scheduled to take the exam, but it was expected, and followed, that Hibbens ended up being the chief of police.

After nearly a year of legal wrangling and head butting between the Fire and Police Commission and the Mayor, all at the expense of the public, Clyde Hibbens was the chief of police. Here Clyde Hibbens sits at the desk of the police chief in April of 1939. He continued to serve as police chief until 1953 when a heart ailment forced him into retirement. He then began serving as Chief Deputy Coroner (not a salaried position) and continued in that position until 1970, when his son Corwin Hibbens (a "salesman") was sworn in as a Deputy Coroner. The Pantagraph reported that Hibbens was planning to retire from those duties and that Corwin Hibbens would take over as Chief Deputy Coroner. Cronyism had been eliminated by the civil service laws!

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