With all the talk of Disbanding the Police (or defund or dismantle or whatever verb is popular today) there has been some reexamination of the past. In an article about the former Police Chief of Atlanta, Erika Shields, Chicago’s Garry McCarthy was mentioned. During and after the Laquan McDonald shooting McCarthy was the Police Superintendent who was basically stonewalling over releasing the video. He left shortly after the video was released to the public.
But that is only recent memory, and political. Chicago has many examples that are just bad cops, operating in packs, never expecting the law to apply to them, or that they will be called to account for their actions. So over the top, that no one wants to defend their actions. No one sane, anyway.
The most famous example is probably Jon Burge et al. Chicago inquiry: Police tortured blacks from NBC News published in 2006.
Special prosecutors investigating allegations that police tortured nearly 150 black suspects in the 1970s and ’80s said Wednesday they found evidence of abuse, but any crimes are now too old to prosecute.
In three of the cases, the prosecutors said the evidence was strong enough to have warranted indictments and convictions.
A group of cops, under the Command of Jon Burge, and known as The Midnight Crew from Area Two conducted a long-standing campaign of torturing confessions out of “suspects.” This was in the late 1970s and 1980s. Richard Brzeczek, one-time Superintendent of Police in Chicago was canned in 1983 for “dereliction of duty.” He basically ignored what Jon Burge was doing at the time, even when there was an “investigation.” (Cops investigating cops? What could go wrong?)
In the end it was SO awful, that a Republican governor commuted all the death sentences in Illinois, because some of the people who “confessed” had ended up on death row. DNA took care of some of it, but there wasn’t always DNA to compare.
The State’s Attorney’s office in Cook County has always maintained they never knew what was going on, but few people believe them.
That era brought about what was probably the first attempt at reform in Chicago. Fred Rice Jr. became the first African American to be Superintendent of Police in Chicago in 1983. He was Brzeczek’s replacement. Rice held that job for a little more than 4 years, and mostly seems to have done a decent job. He was one of the very few in recent memory to retire from that position and not to leave in the midst of some scandal. It doesn’t seem to have helped much.
While Jon Burge & Co. got some national attention, The Special Operations Section didn’t get much national coverage. (Or at least I don’t think it did.) Scandals Bring Down Chicago’s Elite Police Unit. That article is from NPR, published in 2007.
The Chicago Police Department is disbanding its elite Special Operations Section. Seven officers have been charged with robbery and kidnapping.
Because some things are Over the Top, even in Chicago.
One S.O.S. officer allegedly tried to hire a hit man to kill a fellow S.O.S. officer who was cooperating with an investigation into the unit.
Because the rats deserve to die. Or something. You don’t think the law is supposed to apply to the Cops, do you? They certainly don’t think it should.
While I remember that the charges were brought and the unit disbanded, I honestly don’t know who was convicted of what, or if anyone was convicted of anything. It did result in another Superintendent of Police, Phil Cline, leaving office. Well okay, he wasn’t fired; he retired in the middle of a scandal. Big difference? You be the judge on that.
The debate (I hesitate to call it that) about police reform has devolved into a shouting match, as these things usually do, between the “tear it down” camp, and “support the police” camp. Nuance is a 20th Century concept, or maybe 19th Century. Some cops deserve to be supported. Cops like Jon Burge not so much.
So what is the answer? I don’t know. As I mentioned Chicago has been trying to “reform” the police in one way or another since 1983. And they have gotten somewhere. Look at the number of police shootings this year (or last year) compared to 10 years ago. I don’t think they will ever drop to zero. Two guys were shot this month while trying to run over a cop, with a car. Before that the most recent police shooting in Chicago was in March. So that is progress, though crime is worse than it was over that period as well. So no, I don’t have the answers. But the city has been under the control of the Democratic party for nearly 90 years. (The last Republican to be mayor, “Big Bill” Thompson, left office in 1931), so I’m reasonably sure that the Democrats don’t know what to do, either.
Now I write about Chicago politics, and Chicago police and the state of Chicago pensions, probably more than I should. But I loved that city. The architecture is amazing, and the energy used be great. I loved that city, and would spend my free time at the clubs, at the museums, at the theaters. But it is gone far downhill.
[The hat tip goes to Beachwood Reporter, though I can’t really recommend the post. It rambles a bit, though it has a lot more on the History of Police Superintendents in Chicago, and even a bit of The Scorpions playing at 1979’s Chicagofest music festival. (Audio quality is not the greatest, even if you like The Scorpions.) Still, it does ramble on as well.]