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Chicago police officers caught in roiling mess of fear, shock, anger — and hesitation

Cops “are disgusted with the spectrum of every profound decision made under stress being parsed and analyzed to death,” a police source said. “And, yes, there is talk of standing back instead of risking their family’s future on an honest mistake of a moment.”

The nobility of police work is now being questioned as CPD moves into a new era orchestrated by the cold lens of technology.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Crime.

COVID.

Corruption.

The three C’s of a hungry Chicago news media.

Although COVID’s new deadly cousin, the Delta variant, has sounded the latest alarm, the city has been caught in a nightmare. It touches all areas, including the city’s economic engine, Michigan Avenue, as well as what resembles a war zone in the city’s impoverished, gang-ridden South and West sides.

And the Chicago Police Department, in the midst of its own racial reckoning, is caught in the roiling mess of fear, shock, anger, and, God help us … hesitation.

Policemen take the oath of heroes; to serve and protect, to put their lives on the line.

The nobility of a policeman’s work is now being questioned. CPD is moving into a new era orchestrated by the cold lens of technology.

Meanwhile, Chicagoans are recalibrating what it means to go to work, to walk the streets or park a car because of a spike in crime. Cops are rethinking how to do their jobs.

There are many folk aphorisms in the CPD.

Such as:

“If you want to be loved, be a fireman. Don’t be a cop.”

I have heard it for decades.

Everybody loves firemen.

“Firemen loved being loved,” said a former top Chicago police source, one of several interviewed for this column, which included retired top brass and former street cops. All wished to remain anonymous.

“They deserve it,” one said. “But so do policemen ... and they are not getting any of it. Who wants to be on the police force right now?

“There is no doubt there was a huge need for revamp and review,” the source added. “That’s life. Things change. But it’s like there is a mark on every policeman’s chest. That’s scary as hell — for everyone.”

That’s taking a toll on the thin blue line, says another former member of the top cop brass.

“Policemen today are like deer caught in the headlights,” the source said.

“They’ve been working 12-hour days with no days off for weeks, maybe a month due to soaring crime; eight fatalities every weekend, 50 shot, a city out of control and in a downward spiral,” the source said.

“The cops are being held accountable, probably to 15 agencies, but nobody seems to be calling the politicians to be held accountable ... or anyone in this s- - -storm,” the source added.

“There are now gangbangers in every neighborhood in the city. The only people they feared were cops. Now ... nobody respects or fears cops if they know the police are handcuffed.

“I’ve been in a car with cops recently when kids stop next to us, then look at us, and then drive through a red light totally passive and unresponsive. And they look both ways before they go through. It’s a message. A very scary one.

“Then there are the kids walking five in a row careening down State Street and bumping people walking down the street — and the swarms of 10 to 15 kids coming into a store and stealing stuff and not being prosecuted if it’s under $1,000.”

The reality is, “The only ones who understand police are other police. Absolutely the truth,” the source said.

“That’s probably one of the biggest problems: How do you understand what it’s like to live in a nightmare unless you live in it?”

Recordings of profound decisions made under stress are now being picked over by attorneys, the news media and politicians.

“Would a surgeon permit that, or a therapist, or emergency room hospital staff? The police are the cutting edge of that razor, the tip of that spear,” said the former police counselor.

“Police officers are disgusted with the spectrum of every profound decision made under stress being parsed and analyzed to death,” said another one-time member of the upper echelon of the police brass.

“And, yes, there is talk of standing back instead of risking their family’s future on an honest mistake of a moment.

“They operate in turbo time. Decisions are made in split seconds on the street. Now every action is questioned. Consequently, an extra layer of fear puts you in an organic condition ready to move to code red.”

Is the city going to get the police department it deserves?

Let’s hope.

Sneedlings . . .

Kudos to Chicago Teamsters Joint Council President Terrence J. Hancock, who was named Chairman of the Board of Easterseals Metropolitan Chicago. . . . Congrats to newlyweds Emily Mowry and Joel Wallace on tying the knot in the boffo garden of Emily’s Uncle Marc McCormack, who not only planted the Eden, but also presided over the July 9 ceremony. . . . Saturday birthdays: Jennifer Lopez, 52; Bindi Irwin, 23; and Karl Malone, 58. . . . Sunday birthdays: Matt LeBlanc, 54; Hulk, 35; and James Lafferty, 36.