Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Did he blow his dream this weekend?

He went from wearing a close approximation of a police officer’s uniform to wearing an inmate’s clothing, all within the span of two days.

Sadly enough, such a transition is not unheard of. After all, some police officers have been known to cross over the line that divides enforcing the law and breaking the law.

BUT AT FOURTEEN, the case of Vincent Richardson is truly bizarre.

The boy allegedly has dreams of wanting to be a police officer, which makes me wonder if his weekend stunt has managed to give him just enough of a criminal background that he would be rejected if he ever tried to apply to the Police Academy when he’s of proper age.

Richardson has managed to make national newscasts for his weekend activity.

According to the two Chicago metro newspapers (whose reporting has been picked up by the Associated Press, then disseminated to newsgathering outfits including USA Today, the Times of London and the Herald Sun of Melbourne, Australia), Richardson owned items such as a false Chicago police badge, a hat and sweater with proper police insignia, and a black vest with nametag.

HE ALSO OWNED handcuff keys and a case to keep them in. In short, he could appear from a distance to be an actual police officer.

But that does not excuse the fact that the boy was able to walk into the Grand Crossing District police station on the South Side and say he was “reporting for duty,” only to be paired up with a veteran police officer for patrol duty in a squad car.

Chicago police officials, in trying to diminish the embarrassment they now feel, stress that the boy was never driving the car, had no contact with anyone outside of other officers and did not write out any kind of traffic citations.

In short, they claim there’s no one who got arrested on Saturday who is now going to be able to claim their eventual conviction is tainted because they got busted by a kiddie cop.

BUT IT MAKES me wonder how hectic things must have been at Grand Crossing on Saturday if someone in charge actually thought the boy (whose vest was padded with magazines to create a crude-looking effect of wearing body armor) was a legitimate cop.

Now as I noted earlier in this commentary, Richardson made another public appearance on Monday – this one in Juvenile Court, wearing the t-shirt and jeans with the detention center logo that youthful inmates wear.

After all, impersonating a police officer is a crime. It probably is for Richardson’s benefit that he is facing charges in a juvenile court.

That means his “record” will cease to count against him when he turns 21. In short, Richardson gets a chance to have something resembling a conventional adult life – provided he can keep out of trouble for the rest of his teenage years.

BUT APPARENTLY, THE boy has past incidents of a similar nature. He remains on probation for a 2007 incident, and last month was seen at the Ford City Shopping Center in the Scottsdale neighborhood wearing clothes that made police officials think he might be trying to imply he was a cop – although there’s no evidence he did anything at that time.

I don’t know what to think of this incident. His mother insists the boy is fine, although the juvenile court judge who heard his “not guilty” plea on Monday wants him to undergo a psychiatric examination of sorts to see why such behavior continues.

On the surface, we have a Chicago youth who would like to be a police officer. That’s almost a noble goal to have, particularly when one considers that some of the problems our society faces comes from young people developing a distaste for police officers.

But this takes the idea a little bit too far.

I ALSO WONDER what happens to the boy if such activity continues to the point where a judge in the future thinks he is better off spending time in one of the juvenile detention centers that often become training grounds for the next decade’s collection of state prison inmates.

How much harder a time would he get in such a juvenile center for thinking he wanted to be a police officer? Is someone who spends time in such a place still going to think of police as a noble profession, once he returns to the real world?

And once again, would a future application to the police department be tainted by such a stunt? I can easily envision some future panel at the Police Academy looking at his record and saying he lacked the “maturity” that one expects of a police cadet.

For his sake, I hope Richardson manages to overcome his problems, which a pastor testified on Monday in court includes incidents of battery against him and his mother.

AFTER ALL, SEEING an eighth-grader have his life ruined by a stupid stunt is a sad story. That actually is my point in writing this commentary. Too many people are going to want to dismiss this incident as some sort of tale about a “kiddie copper coming to life.”

It’s actually a more serious story than that, and deserves to be played for more than just a quick chuckle.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Some youths’ play cops and robbers, but this teenager took the stunt (http://www.suntimes.com/news/24-7/1397817,boy-impersonates-chicago-cop-012609.article) too literally for the comfort of the Chicago Police Department.

Vincent Richardson may have taken his participation in a youth program meant to get (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article5590225.ece) teenagers interested in law enforcement a little too serious.

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