BY CAROL MARIN
April 1, 2007
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
Phil Cline taught me about heroin. Before he rose in the ranks to become the superintendent of police, Cline headed the Narcotics Division. He knew dope and dope dealers inside out. For a reporter trying to figure out how pure white powder produced in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle ended up in the hands of gang-bangers selling it on the streets of Chicago, Cline was the ultimate tutor.
I respected him then. And I respect him now. Just as I respect and admire the vast majority of men and women who wear the badge and uniform of the Chicago Police Department and put their lives on the line every day.
But that doesn't and shouldn't stop a hard conversation about the problems that exist within CPD.
What's interesting about the current firestorm over the attack on a young bartender by an off-duty Chicago cop is the reaction -- or lack of it -- by some people.
Let's start with Mayor Daley.
He's been away -- his press office wouldn't specify where, but someplace in Europe, traveling with Chicago businessmen and perhaps taking some vacation, too.
Hey, that's OK. The mayor deserves to take time off. He has a very hard job.
But in the meantime, the Police Department has been left to answer the hard questions alone.
That's City Hall's way.
When the Hired Truck scandal broke in 2002, it took Daley quite a while to respond, letting his budget director take the hit. When the story broke about Andy Ryan, the 19-year-old who was given a $50,000-a-year building inspector job in 2004, the mayor thrust his Buildings commissioner in front of the microphones to take the heat. Whenever bad news hits the Daley administration, the mayor has a habit of putting his department heads out there to twist in the wind before he emerges to take questions. Hello, Phil Cline.
And so, as the video of off-duty cop Anthony Abbate pounding a petite bartender played endlessly on cable television around the world, the only postcard we've gotten from our traveling mayor had to do with a different bit of bad news. He took time to offer kind words about his former commissioner of Streets and Sanitation, Al Sanchez, who was indicted by the feds in his absence.
In a statement issued by his press office, Daley said, "I'm disappointed to hear about this indictment. . . . I have known Al Sanchez for several years and know him only to be hardworking and dedicated."
I can't tell the mayor how to do his job, but it might have been useful -- helpful, even -- for him to issue some sort of statement about the massive black eye his Police Department was given by that awful videotape. Maybe something like, "I'm disappointed and outraged to see these images . . . but I have known Phil Cline for several years and know him and his police force to be hardworking and dedicated.''
Don't think for a minute that City Hall is not handling all the information flow on the Abbate case, including when and how the Police Department was allowed to answer questions about this mess.
There is no such thing as an independent superintendent of police. City Hall has always been the controlling force, calibrating the political consequences, then shaping the message.
While the mayor has had nothing to say, my e-mail inbox has been overflowing from police officers reacting to the column I wrote on Wednesday in which I argued that we need a true accounting of the scope and cost of police brutality cases, not to mention a candid discussion of how, from the 1970s to the present, horrific cases of misconduct have gone largely unexplained. Like former Cmdr. Jon Burge and his band of torturers. Like the now-imprisoned Joseph Miedzianowski, who ran a drug and gun cartel while on the force as he terrorized anyone who got in his way. Like the current and growing scandal surrounding the Special Operations Section, where cops are accused of home invasions, robberies and abuse.
Some officers sent blistering e-mails arguing that I and my news colleagues never report the good that cops do. I couldn't disagree more but understand their anger.
Some officers wrote in support, saying how sickened and sad they are. But asking, as one officer did, that we not "forget there are over 12,000 officers that take much pride in putting the Chicago Police star on each day.''
He's absolutely right.
But in the last four years, Supt. Cline has removed 110 officers for cause. We need to know more about that. And about the millions spent each year by City Hall to settle cop brutality cases for officers who too often are defended rather than removed.
These are fair questions.
The mayor's back on Monday.