For a politician who just delivered a $543 million property tax increase for police and fire pensions, Mayor Rahm Emanuel sure has a tenuous relationship with Chicago Police officers.
And it won’t get any easier after 11 police officers were slapped with one-day suspensions for “inappropriately accessing” police reports about the mugging of Zach Emanuel, the mayor’s son, last December on the street outside Emanuel’s Ravenswood home.
Asked Friday whether he supports the suspensions, the mayor said, “You’ve got to address that [question] to the Police Department. I support whatever protocols the Police Department has. My focus obviously — and I hope you respect this — is on my son’s privacy.”
Apparently concerned that the suspensions could damage his relationship with the rank-and-file, Emanuel made it a point to add, “I respect a tremendous amount of what the Police Department and the men and women that make up the department do every day to bring a level of safety and security that all of us expect here in the city of Chicago.”
City Hall spokesman Adam Collins later said that the mayor had nothing to do with the disciplinary actions and didn’t even know about them until a TV report Thursday night.
Officers and department employees are allowed to access police reports, motor vehicle information, criminal history records and intelligence bulletins only “for official reasons,” Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi wrote in a statement emailed to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“This kind of action is not uncommon or new by any means and is done to protect the integrity of law enforcement sensitive information and the integrity of our cases,” Guglielmi wrote.
He noted that 12 officers were given similar suspensions for accessing case files without law enforcement purposes after the fatal shooting at the River North Nordstrom department store in November 2014.
Still, suspensions for accessing police reports are not all that commonplace — and that’s what stuck in the craw of some police officers Friday.
Jim Ade, president of the Chicago Police Sergeants Association, said Friday he’s surprised by the suspensions and hinted strongly that he viewed those disciplinary measures as an over-reaction by City Hall.
“It could have been handled in a different way,” Ade said. “If there are sensitive reports out there, why are they able to be viewed in the first place?”
Dean Angelo, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said: “At this time, we are unaware of any of our members being suspended for viewing the incident involving the Mayor’s son.”
Tensions between big-city mayors and their police forces are commonplace. Just ask New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley had a difficult relationship with the police and did battle with the Fraternal Order of Police over several police contracts. The tensions came to a boil when thousands of angry police officers held a raucous rally outside City Hall to embarrass Daley during the Olympic site selection committee’s final visit to Chicago.
Emanuel’s relationships with rank-and-file police officers has also been rocky.
He campaigned on a promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers then revised the pledge after taking office by adding 1,000 more “cops on the beat,” more than half of them by disbanding special units. The other half were primarily officers working desk jobs reassigned to street duty.
The mayor also balanced his first budget by eliminating more than 1,400 police vacancies, declaring an end to what he called the annual “shell game” of budgeting for police jobs the city had no intention of filling.
When shootings and murders spiked and Chicago started making headlines as the nation’s murder capital, Emanuel used runaway overtime to tamp down the violence — to the tune of $100 million a year for the last several years.
Pointing to the 10,000 shootings on Emanuel’s watch, vanquished mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia pledged to hire the 1,000 additional officers that Emanuel promised but failed to deliver.
The FOP agreed that its members are over-worked and that the Police Department is under-staffed. But, they didn’t endorse Garcia. The best Emanuel could do was to persuade the union to remain neutral.
The mugging that touched off the internal police investigation occurred shortly before midnight on Dec. 19. It happened just days before the mayor and his family left on another one of their exotic Christmas vacations — this time to Chile. It was a particularly poignant trip, since it would be Zach Emanuel’s last before going off to college.
The mayor returned from the trip and made his first public comment about the attack. On that day, he said Zach was talking on a cell phone with a college counselor when he was jumped from behind by two unarmed men. The mayor reported on that day that his son was “doing fine, but I can’t say the same about his parents.”
In a follow-up interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Emanuel was open about the anguish he felt after learning about the attack.
“Your most basic instinct as a parent is to protect your child and there they are only 50 feet away from your house. … You want to protect your children. You also have to give them independence. There’s that inherent conflict,” the mayor said then.
Days before the only arrest in the case, the mayor said, “I’m hoping they find him soon because I’m not sure Miranda rights is something I believe in right now. I say that as a joke.”
The rage the mayor felt about the young men who mugged his son was matched only by the anger he felt when mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti tried to make a campaign issue of, what Fioretti claimed at the time was Emanuel’s failure to press charges in the case.
“I know Bob Fioretti. Bob Fioretti is a better person than those comments reflect. People’s families are off-limits,” the mayor said.
Fioretti’s comment was a particularly low blow because it fed a rumor mill that had been swirling about the case and questioning the official account.
At least some of those rumors may have been fed by the police officers suspended for “inappropriately” accessing the police reports about the attack, which were also obtained by and released to the news media during the mayoral campaign.
Still, the decision to make an issue of an apparently minor violation touched a nerve with veteran police officers.
“This proves where the administration is. You’re going to punish us for a fly on the window and make it a big deal. You want people to move on and now this?” said one veteran officer, who asked to remain anonymous.
“Police officers looking at a police report? Come on. Give me a break. If this is what happened, what’s the big deal Mr. Mayor? What are you trying to hide? All this does is start the rumor mill again. He’s out at 11:30 at night talking to his [college] counselor? Give me a break.”
The wave of disciplinary actions comes just weeks after Emanuel inadvertently offended police officers in Chicago and around the nation when he used “fetal” to describe the defensive crouch that many police officers adopted after the death of African-American suspects at the hands of police triggered demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and New York City.
“You’re looking for a police force to be pro-active and now, you’re disciplining them for minor stuff? It just doesn’t make any sense. I’m perplexed. This sure doesn’t help” build trust between the mayor and his police force, the veteran officer said.
“Nobody is backing the police. That’s the feeling out there. Everything in the media today is anti-police.”
In a closed-door meeting in Washington, D.C., that included the U.S. attorney general, the FBI director, federal prosecutors and 20 big city mayors and their police chiefs, Emanuel used the word “fetal” to describe the post-Ferguson effect. The closed-door comments, captured by a Washington Post reporter who was in the room, were his strongest to date on his view that Chicago cops have pulled back from aggressive policing.
“We have allowed our police department to get fetal and it is having a direct consequence,” Emanuel said then, obviously speaking more freely than he would back home in Chicago.
“They have pulled back from the ability to interdict … they don’t want to be a news story themselves, they don’t want their career ended early, and it’s having an impact.”