What is the real story behind Cline’s resignation?

With all the reporting many very important clues to how the accountability systems work in the criminal justice system in Chicago have been overshadowed by a video of a single officer beating a white women. I will try to decipher the three major incidents behind Cline’s actions and detail the larger context issues that the media and public are missing. Let me state here that Phil Cline did not retire on his own terms but was forced out by a growing scandal involving many different aspects of the department and not just the actions that were caught on video.

SOS Grand Jury Continuing Investigation:

For those of you that missed the scant reporting, a dozen Chicago Police officers have been called in front of a Cook County Grand Jury. Of the dozen officers that have been called in to testify nine received immunity for their testimony. The Cook County Grand Jury is continuing the investigation into the actions of officers from the Special Operations Section (SOS) of the Chicago Police Department. Four SOS officers were indicted back in November of 2006 on various charges from kidnapping to shaking down drug dealers and business owners on the south side of Chicago. The four officers are Jerome Finnigan, 43, Keith Herrera, 28, and Thomas Sherry and Carl Suchocki, both 32 (Chicago Tribune, Nov. 1, 2006). The fact that the officers in question had testified only became public because a lawyer defending Officer Finnigan attempted to get the names and his attempt became public at a court hearing. There does not seem to be any inquiry about whether or not the nine officers that needed immunity to testify are actually still working the streets of Chicago, that is, protecting and serving while committing actions that they need immunity from prosecution for. It seems that all the officers that needed immunity to testify about their on the jobs actions or the on the job actions of other officers they have witnessed should be removed from working the streets at the very least, pending their dismissal from the force. Working as a police officer is a privilege and not a right. If officers cannot openly testify about their on the job actions, or the actions of other officers, they should not be allowed to keep their jobs. Everyone including police officers have the same rights when testifying including taking the Fifth Amendment or seeking immunity from prosecution; however, police officers wield significant power to impact the freedoms of citizens that most other citizens do not possess. This added power comes with added responsibility, such as added requirements to keep the power they have been given. These requirements must include open testimony as a prerequisite to maintaining employment as a police officer. At the very least it would seem prudent that any officers whom cannot discuss their on the job actions or the actions of other officers be removed from working the streets. One has to assume that the actions in question occurred either on the street or hidden from view in interrogation rooms. Also, why are their names being kept secret? I would think that communities throughout Chicago would have a deep interest in making sure that these officers who needed immunity to testify are not working on the streets in their community. Are we to trust the accountability mechanisms within the Chicago Police Department that these officers are not just continuing their misbehavior or their silence about the misbehavior of other officers? If their names need to be kept secret until the grand jury has completed its work, then they need to be released the day the grand jury closes and the reasons they needed immunity must be made public.

Six officers from the Area 2 Gun Team

This has been reported as the fight between four civilian men and six off duty Chicago Police officers from the Area 2 Gun Team. There are two major issues that arise out of this incident and one directly involves Phil Cline. The Chicago Police Department was notified of the fight and sent cars to respond. The reporting to date has been consistent on the fact that a Sgt. was involved in the fight and that he somehow was able to get the responding officers to disregard their duties and to leave the scene. Shortly after the Abbate attack video made the evening news lawyers for the victims of the Gun Team attack started to make noise about the fate of their clients. This noise became louder and louder until Cline was forced to publicly release the status of the internal investigation. It certainly seems like Cline was hoping the whole thing would go away before he ever had to discipline the Gun Team for their attack. The reporting has yet to name the officers that have left the scene, or publicly identify the officers from the Area 2 Gun Team that was involved in the fight. Once again I must ask, shouldn’t communities throughout the city have a right to know whom these officers are and if they are still working in their community? Are the officers that left the scene still on the street responding to criminal actions by other officers by leaving the scene? Once again the media, policy makers, and authorities in the criminal justice system have left the citizens of Chicago without crucial information that would allow communities to make decisions about how the police are working in their communities. The second issues that comes up with this incident is the complete lack of transparency that is the accountability system within the criminal justice agencies in Chicago and Cook County. The process was at a standstill waiting to see if the incident would ever receive media attention. When the incident originally did not receive media attention Phil Cline and other officials failed to push the disciplinary process against the officers. One of the victims needed facial reconstructive surgery resulting from the injuries he received at the hands of the Area 2 Gun Team. This fact alone should have motivated a serious response from the accountability system in place; it did not. Also, we have not heard of any discipline that the officers responding to the scene have received for leaving the scene. It would seem prudent for any police department interested in true accountability to have a strong deterrent to any officer leaving a crime scene, especially when other officers were involved in the incident. This does not seem to be a priority for the department, the media, or policy makers. I have not seen a single report or editorial calling out the officers who left the scene for failing in their duties. But then again, maybe the system is set up to allow little to no discipline for those responding officers to guarantee that these actions are allowed to reproduce themselves in the future.

Abbate Beating of Bartender:

The Abbate videotaped off duty beating of a female bartender is not the responsibility of Cline or the accountability mechanisms within the criminal justice system in Chicago. With 13,000 approximate employees there is little doubt some of them are going to commit actions off duty that would embarrass the department and sicken the community; however, from the moment the attack was reported to the police department everything within the system operated the way the system is supposed to operate, protecting the police officer. The Chicago Police Department as currently situated has no desire to work to deter these types of incidents. If they had, Abbate would have immediately been removed from duty once the incident was reported to the police, not once the videotape aired weeks later on the local news. Also, how can it be that the third largest police department in the country has no formal documents that need to be signed when police officials and prosecutors get together to determine the charges that should be filed against an officer for his on or off duty actions? When the Abbate actions made the local news via videotape it also became clear that the accountability systems in place did not have the security of community members as its top priority. In a closed door secreted manner police officials and prosecutors determined that Abbate’s actions were not up to the level of requiring a felony charge. They instead charge Abbate with a misdemeanor charge of battery. How did they determine the charge? The process did not require police officials and prosecutors to create documents stating how they determined what charge was proper given Abbate’s actions. In fact, the system is set up to allow the maximum amount of plausible deniability and finger pointing, let the best media spin machine win. When the videotaped beating aired public and political pressure forced both the police and prosecutors to reveal the charge they decided was appropriate for Abbate. When the news of the misdemeanor became public, there was a scurry of activity to increase the charge to a felony. Both the police and prosecutors then began spinning and finger pointing about what had determined the original misdemeanor charge. The process is so corrupt that there is not a single document created that could be released to give us insight into this process. What we received in the end was a spin job about how without the videotape the police were unable to determine the seriousness of the drunken beating by a 250-pound cop of 100-pound women. I wonder just how the charges might be different if the assailant was just an average Black or Latino male?

When you take these three incidents together you see a clearer picture of just how poorly the accountability systems in Chicago operate.

  • Officers are left on the street even thought they cannot testify about what they do or witness other officers doing without immunity.
  • Officers are left on the street even though the victims of their attacks are in the hospital or even worse undergoing major surgery to repair the injuries inflicted upon them by the officers.
  • Officers are left on the street even though they failed to protect and serve the people of Chicago by leaving the scene of a violent incident involving other officers.
  • Officials from both the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office cannot explain who agreed to charge a officer with a misdemeanor after a viscous attack on a seemingly defenseless victim.

Daley’s solution: Fire the Superintendent of Police and leave those that protected the rouge officers in place to continue their fine work on behalf of corrupt and brutal officers.

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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