When we went through the police academy, we all had some senior police officer tell us “Kid – this job ain’t what it used to be.” Well,it ain’t. No matter when you came on the job, it is never the same as it used to be and it never will be. However, some things do stay the same.
My father told me that when he entered the Chicago Police Academy in September of 1938, he heard this same saying from his instructors. Now, as I enter my thirtieth year as a Chicago police officer, proudly wearing my father‘s Lieutenant’s star number, I find myself saying exactly the same thing to the young kids working for me.
In August of 1968 after the Democratic Convention, the Chicago Police were vilified by the media across the country as thugs and the enemy. The Chicago police officers at the convention were ordered there. They did not freely choose to be there like the demonstrators who attended the battle on Michigan Avenue. The officers were there doing their duty. Politicians and officials called for federal indictments against the police. Eight Chicago police officers were charged with civil rights violations and 41 officers were disciplined after an internal police investigation. Oh, yeah and by the way, 119 police officers were injured during the convention. That part never seems to get mentioned.
In the last few years, there have been several very regretful and embarrassing incidents regarding Chicago police officers. Modern electronic and print media have sensationalized these events by playing them over and over nationwide. Television stations use the same old video clips of CPD officers walking into court with their attorney whenever there is any mention of police wrongdoing. Newspapers have rehashed these same old stories. All this is in an attempt to raise ratings and sell ad space. What better way for someone who wants media coverage right now then to stand on the podium or a pulpit and slam the police and call for indictments and investigations?
This coming May, Chicago will host the G8 / NATO Conference. Radical protestors are coming from all over the country. Downtown businesses are trying to decide if they should close and board up their stores for the duration of the month. The Federal Reserve Bank is supposedly closing during the conference. Downtown apartment buildings are hiring retired police officers to guard their lobbies. People are worried and none more so than the average rank and file police officer.
The frontline officers are worried that their three days of riot training will be insufficient. The secondary line is worried that their one day of training will not be enough. They are all worried that they do not have the right equipment for a riot. More than anything, they are worried that there just will not be enough police officers. The protestors are planning on having more than 50,000 in their ranks. Chicago may be able to put at most 4,000 police officers out to control the mayhem. I do not like those odds.
A quick search of today’s social media will show you several Facebook pages calling for thousands to attend this protest. The Facebook page, The Chicago Commune, posted this comment “The entire month of May, 2012, will see mass resistance in the streets and neighborhoods of Chicago against the dictatorship of a financial elite and the destruction of our planet by a tyrannical few. We must not only take the streets, but cooperate and take over the factories! And take over the buildings to build long…lasting community centers of resistance!”
There are pages to help you find a ride to Chicago and a place to stay. Facebook is loaded with them and there are dozens of videos on YouTube advocating violence as well. The information is there. You cannot hide your head in the sand and ignore it. They are coming to Chicago in May.
The threat of physical harm to the officers is not the worst of it. In this modern day, there are cameras everywhere. Chicago has the largest closed circuit video monitoring system of any city other than London. Add to that the many cameras the media will have and the cameras the protestors will carry and the odds are that there will be footage on the nightly news showing an officer with a raised baton striking a protestor.
What the video will never show the public is that the officer was just hit with a bag of human feces and a water balloon filled with urine. It has splashed in his face, in his mouth, and ears and run down inside of his shirt. It will not show the hours of taunting that led up to the moment. It will not show that this officer has been on his feet for more than twelve hours and he is tired, hungry, and scared. It will not show that when he goes home he will have his wife bring a change of clothes out to the garage so he can hose off the filth before going into his home. I remember my mother taking a pair of pants and a shirt out to the garage for my father one night when he got home, back in August 1968.
What this video will never show is the toll it takes on the officers’ families. The same officers who are there because they took an oath to serve and protect, who are there because it is their duty. It will not show the mothers telling the kids to stay in the house so they do not see their father covered in filth. It will not show the tears and fears the family endures the next morning when the officer leaves for another day at work.
What this video will show is the face of the officer who gets brought up on charges of excessive force. It will be the YouTube video that causes this officer to loose his pension and his career and is ordered to pay thousands of dollars in punitive damages by the courts. It will be the video that ruins his life, causes his divorce, or costs him his home in foreclosure.
Don’t let a little thing like due process stand in the way. To these protestors seeking media coverage, a little thing like due process means nothing. The officer will be tried by the media within hours and may be found guilty regardless of the facts. Most likely the department and the city will bend to this verdict just as society will. It is apparent that the bigger the city and the bigger the organization, the more it is susceptible to political correctness and less concern it has for actual justice or its people.
Bobby Kennedy said, “Every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists upon.” This May will tell us what our society is insisting upon.
Keeping all this in mind, those of us who are supervisors have several responsibilities. First we need to ensure that the officers who are in our charge have the knowledge, training, and leadership to help them make the proper decisions as they go about the performance of their duties. We must teach them the tools to help them make it through their off-duty lives as well. Let them know that, truly, this job ain’t what it used to be. We need to show them the correct way to do things. We need to set the example for them to follow. We need to take care of our people! Those of us who are fortunate enough to rise in rank need to remember this.
Second we need to ensure that we make the proper decisions ourselves both in our role as supervisor as well as when we are off duty. We have to be a good example to our officers if we want to earn their respect and get them to follow our lead.
No longer can you rely on the city or police department to watch your back. We have to watch our own backs. We all have far too much to loose. Society is no longer happy with a mere pound of flesh in retaliation for what it perceives to be a wrong by a police officer. Now they want to ruin that officer’s life completely and are not satisfied until that happens. With today’s electronic media it is all too easy to do so. Our spouses and children suffer too much because of this.
The podium and pulpit have not mentioned the fact that, in spite of the media thrashings that police have taken, when shots ring out in the neighborhoods and they are ducking for cover behind their podium and pulpit, the members of their police department whom they were chastising are now racing to their aid. For some reason, that poor slob of a police officer who races to the call is protecting the very same people who gave them dirty looks, called them fat and sloppy, called them thugs and the enemy. That is what makes me most proud of the police officers I know. They do their duty, plain and simple. They do their duty!
This spring the anarchy party comes to Chicago. Next it may be Kansas City or Atlanta. It really doesn’t matter where the police officer will be, because it is his duty. The protesters will be there because they choose to be there. You need to prepare yourself as an officer and you need to prepare your officers and yourself if you are a supervisor.
We had a Lieutenant back in the late 80’s that always ended roll call by saying “Run low and zig zag.” Well kid – that ain’t changed. It isn’t just the good old fashioned bad guys who are taking shots at you today. Be safe.
Lt. Robert Weisskopf is a 30-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. Lt. Weisskopf comes from a law enforcement family, including two uncles, a nephew, and his father. Weisskopf wears his father’s lieutenant’s star. Lt. Weisskopf is a graduate of Lewis University with a degree in criminal justice. He currently serves as commanding officer of the Chicago Police Department’s Alternate Response Section, which has approximately 200 officers, a unit bigger than most police departments in the United States.
During his decade-long tenure, the unit has increased officer response from handling three calls per day to 8 calls an hour. He has been a patrol officer, a district rapid response sergeant, and a watch commander in the 17th District. He spent a year detailed to HUD performing public housing narcotics investigations.
Weisskopf is an expert in collaborative leadership and informally mentoring younger officers. He enjoys the constant challenge of policing and problem solving. He just finished a five-year term as President of the Chicago Police Lieutenants Association, the collective bargaining organization for the Chicago Police Department’s lieutenants and was chief negotiator of the current contract.