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Feds in New Jersey could mar McCarthy's made-for-TV image

For all we know, Mayor Rahm Emanuel based his choice to lead the Chicago Police Department entirely on Garry McCarthy’s credentials. But it couldn’t have been lost on a politician as image-conscious as Emanuel that McCarthy looks like the top cop sent by Central Casting.

McCarthy shares the marquee of CNN’s ongoing documentary series “Chicagoland” with his equally resolute-looking boss and a young female high school principal.

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Please enable Javascript to watch this videoIt’s a role McCarthy reprised for the makers of “Chicagoland.” Their cameras also loved him at his previous job leading the Newark, N.J., police department, when they featured him in their acclaimed 2009 documentary series about Newark called “Brick City.”

More recently, though, there was some news out of The Brick City that could cast McCarthy’s tenure there in a different, much less reverential light.

The U.S. Department of Justice has decided a federal monitor must run the Newark force, according to the Newark Star-Ledger. A Newark city government spokeswoman said Tuesday that the monitor’s appointment was not yet finalized but was the “likely” outcome of a federal probe of the department that focused on McCarthy’s tenure there.

The U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey announced it was opening the investigation into the Newark police on May 9, 2011, days before Emanuel was sworn in as Chicago mayor. Emanuel had just introduced McCarthy as his first top cop.

The federal probe in Newark followed a lawsuit seeking a monitor that was filed in 2010 by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

“These are the remnants of your police commissioner,” Udi Ofer, the New Jersey ACLU’s executive director, told me this week. “Our petition documented widespread and grave abuse by the Newark police department and a broken internal affairs system. “

In one two-year stretch, Newark police substantiated only one of 261 complaints of misconduct that were lodged against them. “This is all during the McCarthy period,” Ofer says.

McCarthy’s spokesman at the CPD said the superintendent declined to discuss his tenure in Newark. In 2010, when the Star-Ledger asked McCarthy about his department’s dismissal of so many wrongdoing allegations, McCarthy reportedly “shrugged” and gave a typically blunt response worthy of a TV police drama.

“So the cop always has to be wrong?” McCarthy said. “Drug dealers make allegations against police officers every day to stop them from doing their job.”

“Chicagoland” entertains us with that sort of pithy commentary and by graphically showing the pain crime causes gunshot victims, trauma surgeons, cops, school kids and other everyday Chicagoans.

The show also has given Emanuel and McCarthy an unrivaled opportunity to tout what they see as the good work they’ve done to fight crime here.

McCarthy looks the part, and he talks it, too. The fictionalized Eliot Ness (if not, necessarily, the real-life Ness) had nothing on the CPD superintendent.

Perhaps the most melodramatic segment so far came in the first episode. Asked what he’s trying to achieve by a “gun-safety advocate,” McCarthy replies, “Right now, I’m trying to save Chicago.”

“Any particular part of Chicago?” the advocate asks.

“All of it,” says McCarthy, who attended the “Chicagoland” premiere here.

We also see him grilling underlings about some less-than-satisfactory crime statistics in one part of town. He tells the subordinate in charge of that area how tough he’d be on the bad guys if he were still working out on the streets.

We’ll have to wait to see if McCarthy let them film him having drinks at Harry Caray’s with his buddy, the controversial city contractor Ricky “The King of Janitors” Simon.

Others have quarreled with the Emanuel/McCarthy view of Chicago’s reality. On its website, the nonprofit Chicago Justice Project bemoans what it calls “the shocking degree to which facts and figures from City Hall go unchallenged” on the show.

In Chicago, like in Newark, McCarthy will be judged by how his department deals with its bad apples as well as on fluctuating crime stats. The Emanuel administration plans to appeal a recent court ruling that it disclose how officials handle police misconduct complaints.

And like in Newark, Chicago may not know all there is to know about how McCarthy is running the CPD until long after the last of eight “Chicagoland” episodes airs on CNN.