“Once a model cop, now the dirtiest.”

With the latest revelations that Chicago Police Officer Jerome Finnigan was plotting to kill another officer the Sun-times has seen fit to publish an article, Suntimes Article “Once a model cop, now the dirtest.” on Sunday September 30, 2007 talking about how Finnigan was a model officer that turned bad. I guess a simple question would be on what are those that regarded Finnigan as a model officer basing their decision? (Read the Federal Criminal Complaint against Finnigan, Finnigan Federal Criminal Complaint) Finnigan is facing state charges due to his alleged misdeeds within the Special Operations Section (SOS) of which he has served for the last several years.

These charges range from robbery to kidnapping as Finnigan and other members of the SOS are alleged to have had a long history of ripping off gang members, drug dealers, and completely innocent minority members of our city. The article gives little detail into exactly what those who believed Finnigan was a model cop based their decision on. In 1999, according to the article, Finnigan “won the Superintendent’s Award of Valor in 1999 for saving a store owner during a robbery attempt. He also was named top cop by the Illinois Police Association,” (Sun-Times, 9/30/07). That sounds very nice and credible evidence towards his being a model cop. The only problem with basing your decision on the awards officers have won is that Jon Burge was decorated by then Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Daley for his work in the case of a murdered officer involving the Wilson brothers back in the 1980s. The problem? Burge used various forms of torture to extract a confession from one of the Wilson brothers. This is not the behavior of a cop worthy of being awarded commendations.

In fact, it seems at the time of his commendation he had racked up a large number of similar complaints known to the accountability mechanisms within the Department. Burge is now suspected in torturing or abusing between 100-200 suspects during his twenty-year tenure on the Chicago Police Department. The complexity that is involved in seeing the entire picture of a cop’s behavior demands that information regarding his disciplinary record must be made public. To date, I have yet to see a public airing of this history regarding Finnigan. With the public airing the citizens of Chicago, policy makers, and our elected representatives, might be in a better position to judge how well the accountability mechanisms are working in Chicago. By reading this less than stellar article we are able to read about how traumatic the suicide of Finnigan’s brother was on Jerome. I simple do not see how that is remotely relevant to the matter at hand. He faces the following charges: robbery, assault, kidnapping, and trying to have another cop murdered. What is relevant and would truly help the citizens of Chicago is the airing of his history of abuse and brutality complaints.

A complete and honest airing would put into context this “model cop gone bad” fantasy that the media is spinning. Finnigan might have a history of abusing citizens for twenty years, we will never find out from the Sun-times. Maybe the miss-deeds do not out weigh the good things he has done; I simply would like the opportunity to review all the information and make that decision for myself. From a press conference this last week we are now aware that the US Attorney’s Office in Chicago is investigating how the internal mechanisms within the Chicago Police Department failed to catch the group of SOS officers that were victimizing Chicago citizens. Maybe this will be the beginning of some form of oversight into how these mechanisms operate. This might very well be the reason that Superintendent Phil Cline retired from the Chicago Police Department.

Are the citizens of Chicago confident there are not others like Finnigan loose on the streets of Chicago? I doubt it. Why? Chicagoans lack access to the information they need to make this judgment. Despite all the grand jury investigations of the actions of SOS members, little to no information has been released to the public. There is a need to reform the way information is managed by the criminal justice agencies in Chicago and Cook County; this is yet just another example in a long history of examples of why officers like Finnigan are able to operate for so long without falling victim to the accountability mechanisms within the Chicago Police Department and Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Late Update: The US Attorney’s Office announced at a recent press conference that they are investigating how the Internal Affairs Department within the Chicago Police Department failed to catch Finnigan at his miss-deeds. The US Attorney did announce that the Internal Affairs Department had information dating back four years but never were able to complete a successful investigation of Finnigan.

Tracy has nearly two decades of experience researching and working within criminal justice systems. When Tracy began pursuing a career dedicate to system reform, he found that no single organization existed to promote evidence-based discussions among law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Recognizing that citizens in Chicago deserved the right to demand transparency in their criminal justice system, Siska established the Chicago Justice Project. He received his Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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