Sun-Times Rookie Cop Retread

The Sun-Times’ Main and Dumke retread an old story and in the process missed a big opportunity to really shed light on the problem at the heart of the issue. The article “WATCHDOGS: Chicago’s deadliest neighborhoods get greenest cops” covers an issue that is as old as time in Chicago – neighborhoods with high crime that are very busy have the youngest and least experienced cops in them.

Police LightsThis sounds terrible and it is not exactly how the system should work but the problem is that this reality is created by the union contracts and there is virtually nothing the Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department can do about it. The system allows for senior officers to bid to move to different districts by seniority when openings come up in those districts. This system is the problem. I believe that former Superintendent Jody Weiss, formally of the FBI, tried to address this in the only way he could, which was to not allow the open spaces in safer less busy districts to be posted. Of course the rank and file were not too happy about this but Weiss as an outsider could see that this is a problem. This is not something you are going to see from Eddie Johnson. This is why he is a terrible pick to lead the Chicago Police Department in to a new ear because he flourished in the old system and certainly will not look to upset the cart especially with all his old friends still benefiting from that system.

Now as for the story itself offered very little in the way of new information. It did some data analysis and that is always cool but it really missed the target. The root of the problem is the union contract. Now, had Dumke or Main wanted to really make a contribution they could have looked in to whether or not the city is planning on addressing this in their ongoing private contract negotiations with the supervisors’ unions. These negotiations are to conclude in the spring of 2017 when the city starts negotiations with Fraternal Order of Police that represents the patrol officers and detectives. The FOP is by far the largest union covering officers and the most influential.  Changes in the union contract also played a huge role in the Mayor’s Police Account Ability Task Force report that was published this spring. All of this is missing from this article.

For those that don’t remember this issue being covered before you should take a look at the media coverage of the shooting death of officer Michael Ceriale from 1998. Ceriale was a Chicago Police Office for just over 16 months before he was killed performing his duties in a very high crime neighborhood. Despite the media uproar no substantial changes were made to the system. Which is why almost twenty years later the Sun-Times can pull this issue out of the box, dust it off, add some current data, and presto you have a brand new article.

The ongoing contract negotiations are being done in secret without any community or policymaker input. This is a real problem. Dumke and Main had an opportunity to put the city on record to see if major changes to this problematic system are on the table. Instead we heard alderman complaining about the system’s impact on their communities. There is no doubt that the system is bad and it does have an impact on communities but just publishing complaints and some fancy data analysis is not enough. The media needs to hold our political leaders’ feet to the fire and force them in to an on the record comment. This is how the media really serves the public good. Maybe Pro Publica Chicago can show the Chicago media how it is done.