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Monday, October 29, 2007

In public interest, name cop, accuser

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

You really had to worry about Rich Daley's health if you saw him last week answer reporters' questions about why the City Council shouldn't be given the names of cops who have racked up the most complaints for excessive force.

I thought Mayor Daley's head might explode when he kept saying, "They're [the complaints] only allegations!" Someone should have given him oxygen.

Still, the mayor was right: Complaints against the police officers are, indeed, only allegations. But Daley is wrong when he says that's a reason for keeping the names secret. When these same cops arrest people, it is only an allegation, but the names of the accused are a matter of public record.

So, if citizens are eligible to get their names in print when they're arrested, the public certainly has a right to know the names of cops alleged to be the most brutal. Why? To see if there's a pattern to the alleged brutalization, for one. To judge whether the city's mechanism for combating police brutality is working as it should, or if it is working at all, for another.

Notice that I'm saying that the right to the names belongs to the public, not the City Council. The Daley administration's presumption is that giving the names to the aldermen will mean that they inevitably will leak the names to the public. So what? The public has a right to know the names, leaked or not. That aldermen have big mouths is not a valid reason for the secrecy.

This gets complicated.

For example, concerns about public retaliation against the accused officers should be taken seriously. The police and their families do have a right to privacy for a good reason. Publishing the names with addresses and phone numbers -- which no one is suggesting -- would grievously jeopardize their safety. But if just knowing the cops' names was a bad idea, then cops shouldn't be wearing name tags.

Sure, the aldermen's reasons for demanding the names are suspect; everything they do is suspect. And here, Daley's got a good idea when he asked the reporters: "Could we have all the allegations against aldermen [published too], pffft?" Now that would be interesting reading. But their names lately haven't been appearing on lists of the indicted as often as the names of the mayor's pals. Right now, those lists make more interesting reading.

Daley makes a strong point, backed up by Interim Police Supt. Dana Starks, when he says complaints against the officers often come from offenders trying to discredit their arresting officers in order to "enhance their case in court." It is utterly naive to think that career criminals don't falsely accuse cops of brutality.

But ... Daley's handling of police brutality complaints during his terms as mayor and Cook County state's attorney has been, to put it charitably, flawed. It's thanks to Daley that the words "torture" and "former Chicago Police Lt. Jon Burge" will be forever linked as one of the city's worst injustices. That Daley has taken tighter control of the Office of Professional Standards, the agency that is supposed to investigate police brutality, provides no comfort.

Obviously, this is a complicated matter, requiring the kind of simple-minded answers usually provided by media commentators. So, here's mine: First, disclose, as some aldermen want, the names of officers with more than 10 complaints filed against them in the last five years. Oh, what the heck, in the interests of compromise, make it 20 complaints; that'll still flush out the worst ones.

But, here's my twist. In making the cops' names public, the city also should publicize the names and the criminal and arrest records of the complainants. Fair is fair.

Would that invite retaliation against the complainants? If that's a serious worry, then just publish the complainants' records without their names. That would provide sufficient information to help the public judge the credibility of the most frequent complainers.

But more to the point, who would retaliate, and why? The police? They already know who the worst complainers are; they don't need an engraved invitation to get even. That leaves the public, and here we are getting to a very interesting idea. Maybe there would be fewer 10-year-olds killed in gang crossfire if the public knew whom the cops were nailing most frequently and who was complaining the loudest about it.

Make sure the gang-bangers show up at the funeral, explain to the kid's family, friends and neighbors how it's always the cops' fault.

1 comment:

more4justice said...

Why do we have the FOIA if it is subject to pick and choose when to enforce it. This mayor is the mob itself, he plays by his own rules and nobody else's, raises taxes, hire political pals, gets raided by the FEDS,runs highly scandalized departments and answers to no one. The people he is suppose to serve and protect are losing at an alarming rate. The police has been abusing people of Chicago since his father was mayor. Bridgeport is the Mafia ~ it is where most cops live, Daley native and a heavily prejudice neighborhood with the OLD BORDER PATROL. Filled with White collared criminals, mob bosses, political cronies, where one hand washes the other is business as usual. Go Chicago, What a mayor we have in Daley. CONGRATS TO ALL WHOM VOTED FOR HIM!!!!!!!!!