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Police union: Low morale will crater following ‘biased’ report

Fraternal Order of Police president Dean C. Angelo speaks to the media in November after Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was ordered held without bail in connection with the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. | Ashlee Rezin/For the Sun-Times

A “biased” report that portrays the Chicago Police Department as racist will cause already low police morale to take another nosedive, the police union president said Thursday.

Dean Angelo, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, also ruled out immediate changes to a collective bargaining agreement that a mayoral task force says turns a “code of silence into official policy.”

“What do you think it’s going to do to morale? We’re fielding calls already. People are concerned, upset. Different ethnicities. Different genders,” Angelo said.

“They’re saying, `Where is this coming from? Who did they talk to? How did they come to this conclusion?’ They were biased going in. That’s obvious from the report.”

Angelo said changes to the rigid process that must be followed to discipline wayward officers are possible, only after the five-year union contract expires on June 30, 2017. And changes will happen then, only if the city gives the union something in return.

“Anybody who wants to discuss the contract or impact the language that’s in there right now will have to come to the process of negotiations…When we start negotiations in June 2017, I’m sure the city will come to us with a list of items, and we’ll also have a list of items,” Angelo said.


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The U.S. Justice Department, which began investigating the department after a video of a controversial police-involved shooting was made public in November, is the only party that could force a change in the contract before it expires, Angelo said.

“The only way our contract would be opened up is by the DOJ if they find our contract is a violation of somebody’s civil rights. But the DOJ investigation has nothing to do with our contract. It’s an investigation of the department’s patterns and practices — not the FOP.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed the Task Force on Police Accountability on Dec. 1, the same day he fired police Supt. Garry McCarthy for becoming a “distraction” in the furor that followed the court-ordered release of a dashcam video that showed white police officer Jason Van Dyke pumping 16 rounds into the body of black teenager Laquan McDonald, who was carrying a small knife.

The task force’s blistering, 190-page report takes aim at a police oversight system it says is “riddled with legal and practical barriers to accountability.”

That starts with an Independent Police Review Authority characterized as so “badly broken” it needs to be disbanded. It continues with a police contract that makes it “easy for officers to lie” by giving them 24 hours before providing a statement after a shooting.

The report recommends changing provisions in the police contract that are “impediments to accountability, such as allowing for anonymous complaints, eliminating the ability to change statements after reviewing video and removing the requirement to destroy complaint records.”

On Thursday, Angelo made it clear that changes to the disciplinary process won’t come without a fight. He dismissed anonymous complaints as “generally baseless.”

“Our contract protects all of our members and secures just cause in the process of discipline and separation and any other type of internal or external allegations. Those protections are there because of abuse that has occurred in the past discipline-wise,” he said.

“Affidavits are there to protect officers from unfounded or just arbitrary allegations. If you and I are working in a gang-infested area and we’re constantly locking people up for narcotics and guns and confiscating money, their way to get back at you is to complain. If you don’t have a process in place where you have to identify yourself and actively participate in allegations you’re making against an officer, you could just speed-dial complaint after complaint to IPRA. You could complain nonstop.”

As for the rule giving officers 24 hours before they have to give a statement about a shooting, Angelo said it’s not unusual. He noted the federal government has a 72-hour time-out for officers involved in shootings. Other big-city police departments have a 48-hour waiting period.

Dallas, for instance, moved to a 48-hour waiting period in 2013 based on studies about the impact of stress on officers’ memories, police officials there have said. In March 2015, a Justice Department investigation of the Philadelphia Police Department concluded that officers involved in police-involved shootings there should be interviewed no later than 72 hours after the incident.

Angelo also noted that IPRA sometimes takes weeks and even months before its investigators are ready to question officers involved in shootings.

“They say officers don’t make a statement for 24 hours at the scene of those events. That’s not true. They make a couple statements that night. They talk to the officer in charge. They do a walk-through with IPRA. They talk to the state’s attorney on the scene. They talk to the investigating unit,” he said.

“We could have clarified that if they had picked up the phone [and called the FOP]. But they didn’t call. There is a built-in bias in this report before it came out.”

The report also says officers should no longer have the right to amend their statements if they have not been provided with audio or video evidence before they are interviewed. That currently is provided to officers in their contract with the city.
Angelo rejected the notion that IPRA is biased in favor of police officers.

“Call Ms. [Sharon] Fairley and ask if she has a symbiotic relationship with me. I met her once face-to-face. She’s been sitting there for months. We’re not on the phone regularly. She doesn’t ask me for direction. We have no secret relationship,” he said.

With facts and figures to back it up, the report says “racism and maltreatment at the hands of the police” have been “consistent complaints in communities of color for decades.” The “linkage between racism and CPD did not just bubble up” after the McDonald shooting video was released, the report states.

The task force says it’s possible to rebuild the broken bridge between citizens and police. But only if the healing process starts with a public apology for the disparate treatment of minorities that has “justified” the community’s “lack of trust” in the Chicago Police Department.

On Thursday, Angelo was asked if he considers the Chicago Police Department to be a racist organization.

“Do people have bias? Everybody has a bias growing up as a young individual and as an adult. But these officers are professionals. They go to where they’re summoned to by radio call or assigned by daily mission of their unit,” he said.

“If you look at crimes and murders, gun, narcotics and homicide arrests ward by ward, the top 10 wards in the city are over 80 percent African-American. That’s where the officers are assigned and that’s where more contact occurs. Officers aren’t responding to neighborhoods of color. They’re responding to neighborhoods of crime.”