Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo on Friday expressed serious reservations about the push to relax police hiring standards to attract more black and Hispanic officers.
At a time when police officers across the nation have “never been this scrutinized,” Angelo said the Chicago Police Department should be looking at raising standards — not lowering them.
Instead, Angelo said momentum is building to move in what he called the “wrong direction” — either by eliminating or minimizing the impact of a candidate’s credit history or by allowing candidates with minor drug and criminal offenses to become Chicago Police officers.
“When a police officer walks into a drug house with a search warrant and there’s mass amounts of currency there, that’s a situation where your moral and ethical compass has got to be pointed in the right direction. You have to ensure you’re not tempted by that. Same thing with drug use,” Angelo said.
“What if you’re involved in a domestic violence circumstance with your spouse? Do you want that person coming to your daughter’s house when she’s being abused or struck by her spouse or significant other? You have someone involved on the wrong side of the equation coming in to adjudicate that event. These are things we’re held to a standard of professionalism on, and it looks like they’re turning a blind eye to those qualifiers we have.”
Angelo portrayed the campaign that began with a recommendation from President Barack Obama’s Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement Initiative as part of a dangerous decline in standards that includes other elements of the criminal justice system.
“They don’t want to give anybody any bond anymore. They want to have people who have stolen $1,000 worth of property charged with a felony, only if it’s their 10th offense. What do you tell retailers? That you’ve got to take nine hits from this guy before we can charge him with a felony?” he said.
“So they’re minimizing criminal activity across the board in Cook County — whether it’s the jail and now, the court system. And now, it’s almost as if [they’re saying], `Let’s get those people through the turnstyle and into the police academy.’ To us, that makes no sense at all.”
Earlier this week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel opened the door to allowing candidates with minor drug and criminal offenses to become Chicago Police officers to attract minorities at a time of high crime and deep distrust of police.
Emanuel said he was leaning toward relaxing the hiring rules at the behest of three powerful aldermen: Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th), Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, and Hispanic Caucus Chairman George Cardenas (12th).
“I want to take a look at the general idea that, if somebody did something when they were 16 or 17, that doesn’t become an entire impossibility, as long as it’s not serious, to joining a police department,” the mayor said.
Emanuel said his feelings on the issue were reinforced when he looked out at the latest class of 100 recruits to enter the police academy and realized that “all that diversity” is Chicago’s great strength.
“I see all that promise, all this diversity. Then, I realize that there’s other kids who could be sitting in that chair if it wasn’t just for . . . one little thing. I say little because it’s got to be small, in my view. [That should not prohibit them from becoming] a public servant and fulfilling their aspirations of being a police officer . . . I think we should be generous in that effort. That’s where I’m starting from,” he said.
All three aldermen have argued that embracing the federal guidelines would result in “more Chicagoans of color being accepted into the ranks” of a Chicago Police Department still under the cloud of a federal civil rights investigation triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.
But Angelo advised politicians pushing to relax police hiring standards to look in the mirror.
“They can [thank] themselves for not attracting minority populations because they’ve demonized this job. Politicians have demonized this job. A lot of people in the media have demonized this job,” he said.
“So, now you’ve got a young African-American kid thinking about becoming a policeman, mentions that to the buddies that he or she grew up with. And they say, `You’ve got to be kidding me? You’re gonna go to the police?’ You’re being ostracized amongst the kids you grew up with now because it’s such a bad thing. It’s such a bad job to consider. Why would you want to be a cop?”
Angelo noted that mayors and aldermen “come and go,” but the hiring standards they set today will impact another generation of police officers.
“They need to be very careful . . . They are impacting the people that protect this city in ways that are going to be there long after these politicians are gone,” he said.
“We have aldermen who come through that City Council. Mayors come through that 5th floor [of City Hall]. Police officers are here for 25, 30 years. They’re the constant.”