Friday, March 6, 2009

A copper in the clink? I doubt it

When it comes to police, it doesn’t matter what city you’re in or what department you’re talking about. There’s a common attitude at work of wanting to keep quiet about internal matters.

Which is why it doesn’t surprise me at all that police Supt. Jody Weis’ initial attitude toward a court order telling him to turn over lists of police officers who have at least five complaints filed against them is to tell the judge to stuff it.

WEIS IS REFUSING to provide the list, which is being sought by attorneys for a woman who claims her son was abused by police. Attorneys want to know how many police officers have multiple complaints of abuse filed against them so they can try to show a pattern of the Chicago Police Department downplaying (if not outright ignoring) allegations of improper police behavior.

Privately, the news organizations of Chicago have found that the list could contain as many as 2,500 names of police officers, and some of them may have as many as 60 or more complaints against them.

In short, this list has the potential to make the Chicago Police Department look stupid – and cause many people to bring up their memories of the 1968 Democratic Convention and the way police went off on anti-war protesters (behavior that was later labeled by future Gov. Dan Walker as a “police riot”).

By refusing to provide the list, Weis puts himself in contempt of court, since a judge overseeing the lawsuit has said the defense attorneys have a justifiable reason to want to see the information.

SO THE BIG question floating around City Hall and other circles where urban policy are pondered is, “What will happen Monday?”

For Monday is the deadline provided by U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman to either provide the list, or come up with a good enough reason why Weis should not be held in contempt of court.

Somehow, I can envision a police superintendent being stubborn enough to think he should be able to decide for himself what is legally appropriate for himself to turn over to anyone else. Which means I don’t think he will voluntarily cough up a copy of the list.

Nor do I think he’ll try to come up with anything resembling a reason for not turning it over. At least nothing that goes more deep than, “None of your business.”

SO WILL GETTLEMAN have the guts to issue that contempt ruling? Will we get the sight of a Chicago police superintendent being hauled off by federal marshals to a lockup, then off to the Metropolitan Correctional Center located in the South Loop?

In the case of Weis, it would be even more ironic, because he’s not the traditional Chicago cop who likes to take pride in coming out of the city neighborhoods and working his way up through the ranks.

Weis is a former G-man, the FBI. Could we literally have a former federal law enforcement officer being locked up at the MCC with other people facing federal criminal charges – looking out at the South Loop through those thin slits that pass for windows in the cells so that inmates can’t try to climb through them to escape?

The potential image is just too much, and I can’t help but think the backlash Gettleman would face from other people who like to think of themselves as being part of law enforcement or the justice system would be too much.

SO COULD IT be that both Weis and Gettleman will spend these weekend days trying to figure out a way for each of them to save face, so that both can try to “spin” the story to claim they were not the ones who “gave in” to public pressure.

What is sad about this saga is that the idea of providing such information has become such a cause among law enforcement.

It comes from a mentality that exists among many law enforcement types I have encountered throughout the years that they have to take a few shortcuts from the way they technically should do their job, in order to ensure a greater good of protecting the public safety.

If that means an occasional punk gets smacked about, some cops can justify it in their minds. And many more aren’t about to tell on their colleagues.

THAT IS WHAT this is about.

Weis, a guy who already draws mistrust from some Chicago police types because he’s former FBI (rather than some guy who grew up in Beverly or Sauganash and graduated from the Chicago Police Academy), is falling into the attitude of thinking that this list of potential police problem officers is something that is no one else’s business.

If he had willingly coughed up the list when it was requested Wednesday, he would have incurred the wrath of his police colleagues.

In fact, when it comes to taking the attitude of “no one else’s business,” it is a viewpoint that is worked into the actual contracts the city has with its police officers (and which many police departments have as well).

ANY REPORTER-TYPE WHO tries to write stories about incidents involving activity by the police themselves knows exactly how little information can be provided about a police officer.

The idea that these officers have a right to privacy means that someone can literally get in trouble legally by making public information about potential wrong-doing by a cop.

One of the jokes often passed about is that if a police officer ever really wanted to commit murder, he ought to just go ahead and kill the person and make no effort to cover up. Because those union regulations would prevent police from telling anyone about the rogue officer in their midst.

That may be an exaggeration, but it is the same basic mentality that has Weis thinking he did the right thing this week when he risked the wrath of a federal judge by refusing to turn over “the list.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: Jody Weis claims that turning over the list would damage the (,0,3021793.story) reputations of some police officers because some of the repeat offenses are misdemeanors.


Anonymous said...

Listen, if there is a specific complaint against a specific officer, then yes, the complainant might, I say might have cause to look at that officers history of complaints. To release an entire list of complaints over a period of years, to embarass a department is wrong. Any and all the officers on this list are not party to the lawsuit, therfore they do have a righty to some sort of privacy THAT IS WHT THIS IS ABOUT. Funny thing. average non-police citizens will cry a right to privacy, aright to not self incriminate, but those rights do not and have never sem to be extended to individual officers, THAT IS WHAT THIS IS ABOUT. The person who authored this article is wrong.

Anonymous said...

I know, I should use spell check, sorry abouth those words