Omerta is the word between City Hall and Police HQ
They serve and protect—each other.
Chicago has its share of brutal cops, racist cops, crooked cops and corrupt cops—maybe more, maybe fewer than a lot of other towns—but they certainly don’t represent the police force as a whole.
That’s a given—but we do have a systemic corruption problem.
That problem is the way the city and the department protect wrongdoers through a conspiracy of silence. The Mob has a word for it—“omerta”—the blood oath of silence, meaning you don’t rat out your fellow Mafiosi. Unfortunately, that’s also the CPD watchword. They claim the police can police themselves.
To get any admission of police misbehavior you literally have to catch a bad cop on film. That happened recently when one thuggish specimen was videotaped brutalizing a female bartender. Or you have to catch one cop planning to murder another, as when a nest of crooked cops was exposed and an elite police unit disbanded for criminality.
A University of Chicago Law School study shows that half of all citizen complaints are lodged against only five percent of all police officers. Complaints include brutality, illegal search, racial abuse, planting evidence and sexual harassment—including rape.
But we can’t get the names of that five percent!
There’s an ongoing battle between 28 aldermen and the mayor about releasing the names of miscreant officers. The names were promised, then redacted from a report by Corporation Counsel Mara Georges–who is turning out to be the most meretricious lawyer in the city’s history, slavishly following the mayor’s orders.
The mayor himself publicly denounced the aldermen as disloyal. Sheesh! Don’t they understand omerta?
The council passed a resolution seeking the names of the cops with all the complaints, but still no release. Last week one judge refused to order disclosure and lagged it to a higher court. Eventually we may learn the names.
But perhaps you were wondering, “Why all the mystery?”
Why are they keeping secret the names of problematic officers whose stench permeates the entire department?
The simple answer reflects badly on both the city and the CPD.
We are certain to find a high correlation between the cops who have the most complaints lodged against them and the cops who were subsequently found guilty of brutal or criminal acts.
What are the implications?
Obviously, the city and the department have long known about the most problematic officers but failed to act. Failed until the cops were caught red-handed—and even then, in many cases, the city went to the mat to protect them. Just ask Jon Burge, the pensioned torturer.
Let me illustrate from personal history.
Some years ago I was illegally arrested for “disorderly conduct” by a cop who didn’t like my recitation of the law when he was abusing a driver. I was acquitted in court, then filed suit for false arrest. We obtained the officer’s personnel record, which contained a dozen or more charges of brutality, all with the same pattern: beating people with his flashlight.
The system protected him well: the charges were upheld in only one case, where a respected doctor was a dead-bang eyewitness. All others were dismissed for “lack of evidence.” (The U.C. study shows that only one percent of citizen complaints are ever upheld.)
I won my false-arrest suit and a significant cash award. But even after that they refused to take any action against the errant cop.
That small episode perfectly illustrates the way a corrupt system works.
Isn’t it time for the city to drop its oath of omerta and give that 95 percent of upright police officers their reputations back?
Don Rose, a Chicagoan with a nationally known reputation in progressive politics, is a regular political analyst for The Chicago Daily Observer.