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Police union president denies code of silence, rejects civilian police review

Kevin Graham

Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham on Monday flatly denied there is a code of silence in the Chicago Police Department and said there is no form of civilian police oversight that the city needs or the union will accept.

“We already have it. We have COPA. And by the way, COPA is not in our current contract. If we didn’t want to cooperate with them, we wouldn’t. And we have cooperated,” Graham said.

Graham said there “already is a great deal of civilian oversight, including a civilian advisory board in every one of the city’s 22 police districts.

“To spend more tax dollars when it really needs to go into a new training academy for the Police Department, to hire police officers, to improve on training and community involvement — that’s where we need to be spending our money,” he said after participating in a panel discussion on civilian police review sponsored by the City Club of Chicago.

Instead of using civilian review to rebuild shattered public trust, Graham suggested police officers make Sunday morning stops at churches and other houses of worship to let the people they serve “know they care about them.”

He also proposed requiring Chicago Police officers to get a four-year college degree, instead of completing just two years of college.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) questioned the hardship that might create for black and Hispanic applicants. But Graham said that adverse impact could be mitigated by tuition reimbursement.

(From left) Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President Kevin Graham, Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), Ald. Ariel E. Reboyras (30th) and Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) participate in a panel discussion on civilian police oversight at a City Club of Chicago luncheon at Maggiano’s Banquets on Monday. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously admitted there is a code of silence in the unrelenting furor over his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

Defense attorneys have been citing that code of silence ever since to strengthen their allegations of police abuse and squeeze larger settlements out of Chicago taxpayers.

But Graham contradicted Emanuel and scoffed at the suggestion by the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability that the now-expired police contract “codifies the code of silence.”

“There is no code of silence. … When I ask politicians who did this and when, they can’t answer me,” he said.

In 30 years as a cop, Graham said he has told officers who abuse the public trust or ignore general orders that it’s “time to retire, time to leave the job or time to move to another district.”

“Nobody wants criminals on the Police Department. I won’t tolerate it,” he said.

If there is no code of silence, Graham was asked, why have three officers been indicted for conspiring to cover up the facts surrounding the McDonald shooting and cover for Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who fired the 16 shots into the black teenager?

“Wait a minute. Wait a minute. First of all, that case is still ongoing and … there’s still a lot to be said. When that comes out, I think a lot of those questions will be answered,” he said.

“The public does not know the entire story with that case. Once that case has the trial finished, people will understand more of what happened.”

The City Council is holding public hearings across the city to consider four rival plans for civilian police review.

During Monday’s panel discussion, Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), chairman of the Committee on Public Safety, pretty much sided with Graham.

“Putting more eyes on the police officers is not the answer,” he said.

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) countered that a civilian oversight commission — with elected representatives from all 22 police districts charged with hiring a seven-member “commission of professionals” — is a “critical part” of rebuilding public trust.

“If we want civilian community partnership, we can’t say, `You can’t be a part of the process,’ ” Osterman said.

The FOP has asked members to show up at Wednesday’s City Council meeting to amplify its claim that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has “turned his back on the police.”

On Monday, Graham said the slow pace of contract talks with the city has a lot to do with the protest.

Graham disclosed he has yet to have a face-to-face meeting with Emanuel and there have been only two meetings with the city. One was a “meet-and-greet.” The other was about body cameras.

“It is a very slow go. It’s very frustrating at times as well. I’d like to have a contract done tomorrow if I could,” he said.

Graham did not go so far as to accuse Emanuel of slow-walking the police contract to get past the Feb. 26 mayoral election. But, he said, “Officers on the street are very frustrated. They don’t feel they have been given the due respect they deserve. … There’s also the lack of manpower. How’d you like it if you not only couldn’t get a day off, but your days off were cancelled?”