Friday, May 29, 2015

Serve and protect ... themselves


     The truly disturbing thing about the photograph of two cops brandishing rifles and grinning over the prone body of a black man wearing antlers (wearing antlers — how do you even do that? "C'mere buddy, put these antlers on and let this third cop take your picture before we turn you loose?") is not that it jarringly captures one moment of grotesque bad judgment and racial insensitivity a dozen years ago, but that it is also a perfect expression of the main ongoing problem then, now and into the foreseeable future of the Chicago Police Department.
     The motto on Chicago squad cars, "We Serve and Protect," is a phrase without an object. "We serve and protect whom?" The implication is the people of the city of Chicago, and to be fair, much serving and protecting goes on, all the time, all day, every day. Any discussion of the Chicago Police has to start with a caveat: that there are over 12,000 sworn officers, most doing their jobs in a laudable fashion, enduring an at times dull, at times difficult routine, performing acts of heroism, sometimes laying down their lives.
     But the ooze from the bad apples spatters them, big time. The routine competence and occasional excellence of the department is undercut by a general atmosphere that could be emblazoned on their cars as "We serve and protect ourselves." The attitude is that their job is so dangerous that their first duty is to each other, and it fosters an insular world of corruption and cronyism. Every illegally parked car with a pair of handcuffs or a checkered hatband hanging from the rearview mirror is a whisper of "I'm a cop; give me a break."
     And they do, on matters big and small, and it leads to cops like Jerome Finnigan, on the left in the instantly infamous photo. Finnigan is in a prison in Florida serving 12 years for robbery and home invasion. The other officer, Timothy McDermott, is still trying to get his job back, and the public has to shake its head that the Police Board voted 5-4 to fire him last October.
     Really? A close call? McDermott argued it was a youthful prank, and to the degree that could be true, you have to feel sorry for him. But the Chicago Police Department has long been a weight on our city's reputation. Try to pick an era without a jaw-dropping police scandal, from this latest embarrassment rocketing around the Internet to Burge torture to the police riots of the 1960s. It never ends.
     At some point the police need to at least give the impression they care, that the best interests of any officer who does any misdeed imaginable and some that aren't won't trump what is in the best interests of the department and the city.
     Finnigan and the three officers working for him logged 200 complaints without raising any alarm among their superiors, and when you look at how one of those complaints was handled, you see why. In 2002, Finnigan and his fellow Chicago Police officers broke into the home of Robert Cook, who turned out to be a Chicago firefighter. They beat him in front of his children. Cook filed a complaint. Here is how the complaint was handled, according to Cook's lawsuit against the city:
     The next day, May 30, 2002, an investigator from the CPD came to plaintiff's home to discuss his complaint. The investigator told plaintiff that plaintiff was a drug dealer and that his complaint was "bogus." A day or two later, the investigator returned to plaintiff's house and told him that if he pursued his complaint the police would cause him to lose his job. Plaintiff told the investigator that he would not pursue the case so long as the police did not arrest him, plant drugs on him, or have him fired. As the investigator left plaintiff's home, he told plaintiff, "just forget about this; otherwise kiss your job goodbye, and you're f----."
     Over the past decade, the city of Chicago has paid out $500 million in lawsuits based on such police work. A half-billion dollars. That's almost exactly the nut due on the ballooning police pensions. If cops weren't so adept at ignoring the malfeasance of their brethren, Chicago wouldn't be quite so broke.
     Police have a tough job, which they make tougher by coddling the rotten apples among them. We haven't had a Ferguson-type crisis in Chicago yet out of pure dumb luck. But luck only holds so long, and the Chicago Police Department must start policing itself better.

42 comments:

  1. Chicago cops routinely run stop signs & red lights, not because they're on a call, but because they can & won't get caught.
    They're essentially out of control & I'm really sick of the line that most cops are honest.
    That's BS!
    There's only one way to reign in their bad behavior & that's to make all judgements against cops come out of their pension fund.
    You would then be sure the few good cops would rat out all the bad ones!

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    1. I think you're on to something. Not the pension fund suggestion, brilliant though that may be, but the "broken window" theory -- correct the minor infractions and the major ones won't occur (as often). See how they like it, getting a ticket for running stop signs and red lights.

      John

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    2. I once saw a sergeant waiting in line for a left turn. He got fed up with the line, put on his lights & siren & made the left turn on a red light, holding up all the traffic. As soon as he made the turn, the lights & siren were turned off & then he parked about a block down, to eat!

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    3. There used to be a website called "copswritingcops.com" that was about police officers getting traffic tickets from other cops. Roughly half the comments were from cops who were furious, just beside themselves with indignation, that anyone would treat them the way they routinely treated other people.

      Screw them.

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    4. Not limited to the police. My cardiologist once went off about having to wait with the common herd to get some minor treatment -- I think he forgot whom he was talking to.

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  2. So is this the way it is to varying degrees within most every police department? Is it the nature of the institution? Like the military, it's the us against them mentality. Maybe the only difference is the rampant sexual abuse that persists in the military.

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  3. Excellent article, Mr. S. That was shocking about the firefighter story.

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  4. Though they might not have prevented this incident, the focus should be on lapel cameras. The technology is there, all that's lacking is the willpower, and that has a very good chance of making a dent in the worst abuses. I think something has to be done about the review process too - too many cases of police with numerous complaints and never a finding of misconduct - not credible.

    That said, the praise for police in these kinds of articles always feels like lip service. "Don't get me wrong, most police are great and they work very dangerous jobs, BUT..." I'm not questioning the sincerity of the disclaimer in NS' column, I 'm just saying how these things in general come off to my ears. I wonder if a week as a beat cop would give most of us post traumatic stress syndrome.

    I have a friend who never met his father, a policeman killed in the line of duty. He pulled over a car that was speeding on the west side and the driver shot him. This kind of everyday danger - and heroism - deserves more than the throwaway paragraph: for every column on an incident of police brutality, we should see one on everyday police heroism (even if it doesn't result in death).

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    1. I completely agree that the police do heroic things every day, and it's a job I could never do. But it's a line of work that they chose to do and continue to choose to do. Let's face it, someone doing their job the way it's supposed to be done is usually not going to make the news.

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    2. A-N-A- As Butch said to Sundance in the film "everything has to be just perfect for you"

      But good point about the dangers of police work and the good ones who go down.

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    3. Coey, true, can't picture you as a cop, meter maid, maybe-just kidding. And you were up way past your bedtime last night, as per the blog posts.

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    4. @Anon 10:10 Matthew 5:48

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    5. didn't take you as a religious type-well thanks for making me open up the Bible, hadn't done it in a while, but you still aren't perfect, ANA, wink,you're loads of fun though

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    6. I think Anon Not, might be
      Zorn in disguise.

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    7. You make a good point about how there could be more positive coverage of police performing their duties well, A-n-A, and about the "lip service" feel of the obligatory "most doing their jobs in a laudable fashion" line. Still, that paragraph needs to be included, and NS is gonna take a load of crap from cops about this, no matter what he does. From what I've read, NS is a patriotic guy, not a counter-culture type murmuring "pigs" under his breath when he sees an officer on his/her beat. But, as Coey notes, people doing what they should do is not "news".

      I hope you'd admit that it's a tad ironic for you, Mr. "Yes, but..." to be suggesting that there be a positive piece for every negative one. If Neil had written a glowing appreciation of police work, in general, you'd more than likely have pointed out that the shortcomings should have been addressed more effectively. ; )

      I certainly value the contributions of police to the common good, and am no basher. (There's your lip service again!) But, it seems to me that, given that the police have the power in this society, not their detractors, the role of the press is to be MORE vigilant about their abuses of power, not less. The recent rash of videos indicating that certain officers have not been telling the truth when it comes to certain incidents help to demonstrate the extent to which the presumption of innocence and veracity, at least in the judicial system, has always been on their side, at the expense of the accused. This makes sense, of course, but if that presumption needs to be reconsidered, it's a good thing that there are folks like Neil willing to put up with the consequences of speaking truth to power. But, as your first paragraph indicates, you know that...

      How did we get from the policeman on the beat being Officer Friendly, as was the image when I was young, to today's world where police are viewed with much more suspicion? There are many reasons, but one of the biggest, it seems to me, is the failed and misguided policy of the war on drugs -- marijuana, in particular. Way back when, Prohibition of alcohol led to much corruption, many abuses and lots of violence. Similarly, the agenda of trying to police people who utilized a different method to alter their consciousness than Richard Nixon, e.g., preferred, led to regular, generally law-abiding, non-violent folks finding themselves in opposition to authority. In addition to contributing to the tragedy of what's happening on the South and West sides. This agenda, at least, was not the fault of the officer tasked with enforcing it.

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    8. J - Irony acknowledged. I was trying to direct my comment to the punditry media in general - I kind of forgot the crapstorm that certain police have dumped on NS in the past. I admit I'm a bit schizophrenic here because the situation is a bit schizophrenic.

      Re: Eric Zorn - I'm surprised nobody has suggested that I'm another Tribune - well, former Tribune - person. Anonymous, frequent poster, NS pest? (For the record I'm not, but it would be kinda funny...)

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    9. not sure who that is -not that familiar with Trib

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    10. Well said as usual, Jakash.

      ANA you seem to relish or be proud of the fact that you nitpick NS, overly so.

      Now, if I can just hear from Bitter Scribe about this column, all will be well.

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    11. I appreciate the good-natured acknowledgment, A-n-A. I thought you'd counter by saying that I'm as much of a "Yes, but..." waffler as you are, which is true. I consider us both to be "nuanced". : )

      Not sure I'm getting the Trib-person reference, unless you're suggesting you might just as well be writing a "Neilwatch" column for the Reader...

      As for EZ, I don't think he'd be as hard on Neil as you sometimes are. And I'm pretty certain that he wouldn't be posting Biblical verses in his rejoinders!

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    12. There's yet another problem. The police have become too isolated from the public.
      Around 15-20 years ago, the International Association of Police Chiefs had a report that said the worst thing to happen to policing in the US was A/C in the cars.
      Seriously, they said that it cut them off from hearing anything outside their cars, because they had the A/C on all the time, when it was warm out.
      Now I'll grant them that the soft body armor is hot to wear, but they never even have the windows open an inch or two.

      And then there's the appalling attitude so many cops have, which can be summed up as: Were you born an asshole or did you have to take lessons?

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    13. Jakash, yes, I recall the officer friendly days too- but maybe some of those protestors in '68 in Chicago deserved to be bashed in the head, if they are throwing rocks and bottles at the cops.

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    14. ANA, you must be a Logic class instructor.

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    15. Jackash - Bingo on the Trib person - I mean, that would be too perfect and too pathetic. I'm pathetic enough as-is!

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    16. Wow, Jackash, rejoinder and nuance-those are big words. Now I have to look them up.

      Ana, you are never pathetic.

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  5. Ironic indeed with the police line don't cross pic.

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    1. Anon at 12:49- so true about some being big headed assholes. Ive learned this just as a regular citizen and not even having any legal run ins with them.

      And look what the Bolingbrook cops let Peterson get away with. If you are being beaten by your cop husband, I guess it's good luck to you and not just in that lone cops case.

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  6. The deeper problem is that cops won't police themselves, won't out the bad apples or try to convince them what they're doing is wrong. I imagine the retribution from fellow officers would be severe if any of them tried to "rat out" the bad cops.

    Yet, they complain they can't get cooperation from blacks in finding or turning in gangbangers and murderers killing innocents in bad neighborhoods. Hypocrites.

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    1. I never thought about how that common thread is there. Very insightful.

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    2. Yep, that's a very apt observation, Wendy.

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  7. good to see some ladies on here-not enough of them

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  9. Where is Tom Evans? hope he's okay

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    1. Last we heard here at EGD, he was on vacation in Italy. I bet he's more than okay...

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    2. thanks, Jakash

      you certainly are more diplomatic then Sandy is

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  10. People do come and go on occasion Anon, so I don't think you need to worry if they (Tom Evans, Bitter Scribe, et al) take a couple days off. Sheesh.

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  11. Sandy, put the claws back in. I know that Tom is elderly so just concerned. I must have missed his traveling to Italy post. No harm in asking. The other I asked about an opinion. Chill.....

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    1. No, thanks. I like speaking my mind, If my flip comment above offended you, you must be overly sensitive.

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  12. you must be overly insensitive- I too can be flip, funny you don't like I speak my mind, it's only okay for you I guess

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    1. We're all allowed to speak our minds here, Anon. You've been doing a fine job of it so far.

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  13. have to have the last word?

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Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.