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Ald. Edward Burke built ‘special police’ force after Rahm cut bodyguard detail

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) with his driver in a Chicago police vehicle outside the Dirksen federal courthouse when he appeared in court Jan. 3 after being charged with attempted extortion.

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) with his driver in a Chicago police vehicle outside the Dirksen federal courthouse when he appeared in court Jan. 3 after being charged with attempted extortion. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

After he was elected in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, facing budget problems and a shortage of officers on the streets, said he’d cut the bodyguard detail for Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), paring it from four active-duty Chicago police officers to two retired cops.

So Burke began hiring former Chicago cops and getting them certified through an obscure city program, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

Since 2014, the city has certified nine “special police” officers at Burke’s request, allowing them to carry guns and make arrests.

Six of those former cops remain on the payroll of the Chicago City Council Finance Committee, even though Burke relinquished his position as head of the powerful aldermanic committee after federal prosecutors announced early last month they had charged him with attempted extortion.

But soon all of those former cops will be out of their city council jobs — casualties of Burke’s fall from power.

Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th), who assumed Burke’s chairmanship, says two of the retired officers are being reassigned to City Hall’s finance department, working on workers’ compensation cases. Responsibility for managing that $100 million-a-year program was stripped from the finance committee after Burke was charged.

The other four retired cops on the finance committee payroll will lose their jobs, O’Connor said.

“They weren’t going to drive for me, and we didn’t need them,” said O’Connor, who does not have his own security detail.

Just what the special police officers did under Burke isn’t clear. They were given job titles that included clerk, legislative aide and investigator, but city personnel records don’t describe their duties.

Burke didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Ald. Edward M. Burke gets in to a car outside his Southwest Side home on Jan. 3. | Justin Jackson / Sun-Times

Burke began having city bodyguards in the 1980s, during his bitter “Council Wars” rivalry with the late Mayor Harold Washington. Burke’s lawyers said he needed to be protected from “irrational, unbalanced” people who were angry about his “differences” with Washington, Chicago’s first African-American mayor.

City officials tried to take away Burke’s four-officer police detail in 1986, but he successfully sued to keep it.

In early 2011, then-mayoral hopeful Emanuel threatened during his campaign that, if elected, he would strip Burke of his bodyguards and possibly his finance committee chairmanship.

Emanuel threw out that bombshell during a debate on WTTW-Channel 11. Privately, Emanuel had blamed Burke as being behind a residency challenge that nearly knocked him off the 2011 ballot, the Sun-Times reported at the time.

But once Emanuel was elected, the two political heavyweights reached an accommodation. Burke remained finance committee chairman, and he still had bodyguards, with the mayor saying the alderman would have a smaller detail of two retired cops, at city expense, and keep his police vehicle.

And then Burke quietly created his own tiny police force. Nine former Chicago cops were certified by the city as special police officers at Burke’s request between 2014 and 2016, records show.

Chicago’s police superintendents were responsible for certifying the special officers.

“The members of that detail were mostly former police officers given arrest powers and appointed as special police because that allowed them the ability to take limited police action in the event of a physical threat to the chairman,” says Anthony Guglielmi, chief spokesman for police Supt. Eddie Johnson.

Johnson certified three special police officers for Burke in 2016. Johnson’s predecessor, Garry McCarthy, certified six other ex-Chicago cops as special police officers for Burke in 2014, records show. McCarthy, now running for mayor, says he doesn’t recall signing off on them.

In 2018, the yearly salaries of the six retired officers currently working for the finance committee totaled about $308,000, plus benefits.

In 2009, the city had spent almost $600,000 on Burke’s detail of four active-duty cops, according to the watchdog group the Better Government Association.

Three other retired Chicago cops also were certified as special police officers for Burke, but they left their finance committee jobs in 2014, 2016 and 2017, city personnel records show.

Guglielmi says the city’s special police program has been discontinued as of January — the month prosecutors announced they’d charged Burke with attempted extortion and he lost his committee chairmanship.

The certifications for Burke’s special police officers expired at the end of 2017, according to Guglielmi.

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