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Emanuel’s Police Board shake-up advances

The revamped Chicago Police Board will soon include an attorney specializing in immigration rights and a police-officer-turned investment banker who hired Rahm Emanuel for a job where he made more than $18 million in 2.5 years.

The City Council’s Committee on Public Safety made certain of that Tuesday by confirming the appointments of Claudia Valenzuela, associate director of litigation at the Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center, and John Simpson, a partner at Broadhaven Capital Partners.

They will join the nine-member board charged with taking disciplinary action against wayward Chicago Police officers. The board has a history of reversing the superintendent’s recommendations to fire accused officers.

Simpson is a partner at Broadhaven Capital Partners. He contributed $55,300 to Emanuel’s re-election campaign and $25,000 to the super PAC created to re-elect the mayor and bolster his City Council majority.

Simpson’s resume also includes a 15-year stint as vice chairman of Wasserstein Perella & Co., the investment banking firm where Emanuel became a multimillionaire, cashing in on the political contacts he had made while working for then-President Bill Clinton.

That history was never mentioned at Tuesday’s committee hearing.

Instead, Ald. Edward Burke (14th) praised “my friend” Simpson for the unique perspective he provides as an attorney who clerked for a federal appeals court judge after graduating from Harvard Law School and as a former reserve deputy sheriff and patrol officer in the Lennox and Pico Rivera sections of Los Angeles.

“He’s had the responsibility of actually being out on the street and confronting the problems of law enforcement. He has actually strapped on a firearm and pinned on a badge and enforced the law,” said Burke, one of four former Chicago Police officers serving on the City Council.

“He’ll bring to the deliberations of the Police Board a knowledge that few people who serve on those boards could ever acquire because they’ve never served. . . . There’s no doubt in my mind that the police officers who come before that board seeking justice will receive justice in no small measure because he’s been there, done that,” Burke said.

Critics have long argued that new blood is needed on the Police Board to restore public trust severely shaken by police abuse cases and by the board’s history of reversing the superintendent’s recommendations to terminate accused officers.

That is true now more than ever with the deaths of African-American suspects at the hands of police triggering demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore; and New York City.

That might have been what Simpson was talking about when he told aldermen that the modern-day version of “To Serve and Protect” should be, “We serve and protect with respect.”

“I will serve with vigor and integrity, doing my best to ensure that citizens are treated with respect and fairness by the Police Department and that the department treats its members with the same respect and fairness with which it rightly expects them to treat our citizens,” Simpson said.

Simpson’s remarks were music to the ears of rookie Northwest Side Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), who has served Chicago as both a firefighter and a police officer.

Napolitano warned once again that the anti-police fervor sweeping the nation has Chicago Police officers running scared and pulling back.

“Little by little, we’re losing our pro-active police officers. They feel they’re not being backed and they’re not being heard. . . . They’re just going to sit back and wait, respond to their calls. They’re going to go to it after-the-fact if something’s happened because they feel they’re not going to be backed,” Napolitano said.

“You have police officers that are being beaten on the street because they’re afraid to have any type of reaction and worried about the action that will take place afterwards. . . . I need you to know that these are men and women [who] do a job that a lot of people don’t want to do,” he said. “They’ve seen a lot of things that people don’t ever want to see. . . . These men and women are heroes to me. I’ve seen ‘em do stuff you cannot imagine. I want them to know you’re going to make the right decisions going forward in the future on behalf of the civilians as well as on behalf of them.”

Valenzuela, the daughter of immigrant parents, said she has spent the last 15 years working “extensively on issues relating to law enforcement and its corresponding impact on and relationship with” immigrant communities.

Burke, local champion of Chicago’s “matricula consular” ordinance, asked Valenzuela to assess the impact of the official identification card recognized by Chicago for everything from entering public buildings and registering kids for school to accessing a library card and obtaining a business license.

“The matricula program has greatly benefited many individuals who otherwise sometimes feel forced to live in the shadows. It’s helped bring folks out, feel part of the fabric of society. That creates safety generally for our city,” she said.

The police board decides disciplinary cases in which the police superintendent seeks to fire or suspend an officer for more than 30 days — and cases in which the superintendent and the Independent Police Review Authority disagree on the recommended punishment.

Suspensions ranging from six to 30 days also are reviewed upon request.

A Chicago Sun-Times review of the board’s decisions found police Supt. Garry McCarthy loses most of the cases in which he seeks to fire an officer.

Last year, the Police Board voted 5-4 to fire Chicago Police Officer Timothy McDermott for joining another former officer in posing for a racist photograph. The men, holding rifles, were crouched over a black man, lying on his belly, with deer antlers on his head.

The four dissenters — including now-replaced board members Elisa Rodriquez and Susan McKeever — argued that McDermott should only have been suspended. But a majority of the board wrote that “appearing to treat an African-American man not as a human being but as a hunted animal is disgraceful and shocks the conscience.”

McDermott subsequently lost his battle to overturn that decision in court.