Phil Cline Must Resign

(Photo: Police harass news media in coverage of Abbate beating case. Credit: Chicago Sun-Times.)

Last week, in light of the Anthony Abbate bartender-beating incident, I declared myself in favor of a balanced opinion about the Chicago Police Department rather than painting all Chicago police with the same, hateful brush of bonehead Abbate. I still stand behind that view. But judging by recent Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times reports, the circle of boneheadedness should certainly be widened. RIght up to the top.

Yesterday, at a press conference where he was originally scheduled to be discuss safeguards put in place after an even earlier police beating, Chicago Police Supt. Phil Cline let out his mea culpa. Cline announced the controversy surrounding the recent police beatings have been “disheartening and embarrassing for me, personally and professionally” (see Tribune video). Hmm. Is that because both beatings were caught on tape, or because one of the videos was widely broadcast on national television? Because, judging by Cline’s actions, it doesn’t seem to be because of the beatings, themselves. Until the news media began asking questions about these two beatings, as Cline himself reports, it was still business-as-usual at the CPD.

As reported in the Tribune, after a December 2006 bar-beating incident, in which six officers severely pummeled two businessmen in the Jefferson Tap, a Loop bar, Cline admits to leaving the officers on active duty for three months following the attack–even though the Chicago Police Department had a tape of the attack in its possession five days after it happened. Cline suddenly feels a need to apologize now that the media has called him out? Where was his professionalism–not to mention his responsibility to protect Chicagoans–in the three months these thugs were still on active duty?

As reported in the Sun-Times and Tribune, that urge to unfairly shield officers from the consequences of their own actions remained in full force the evening of February 19, 2007, when the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Abbate beat a 5-foot-4, 115-pound female bartender into the ground at Jesse’s Shortstop bar on the northwest side for cutting him off because he was drunk. Both papers describe special treatment received by Abbate on the night of the incident and police attempts to hinder the media from covering it and harass the victim, including:

Fellow officers of Abbate are suspected of returning to Jesse’s Shortstop the same night, offering bribes for the bartender to keep quiet, and then threatening to plant drugs in cars owned by her and the bar’s owner.

Abbate’s police captain, recently demoted, ordered officers to block the parking lots of the combined Grand Central District police station/courthouse parking lot, as well as an adjacent private lot, specifically to hinder the news media from being able to cover Abbate’s arrest and allow Abbate to duck out a back door. Reporters were falsely threatened with arrest and their cars, parked on nearby streets, were falsely ticketed.

The CPD merely charged Abbate with misdemeanor assault. The attack was upgraded to aggravated assault by a state’s prosecutor after news media began playing the tape of the beating.

Of the Abbate attack, the Sun-Times has Cline saying, “In hindsight, this incident should have been handled differently. These officers should have been stripped of their police powers sooner. The incident has made me realize we need to tighten up our Ps to ensure that officers who participate in this type of behavior do not remain on the street.” What about the behavior of the police official who is responsible for taking such officers off the street? Cline is Chicago’s police superintendent. Doesn’t the buck stop with him? Except that the buck obviously hasn’t been stopping–with his own full knowledge he’s been letting it roll along unfettered, out of the eye of the public.

And if you’re a law-abiding Chicagoan, that should really piss you off. (And it does: see Tribune scribe Eric Zorn’s take on the matter and reader comments).

There are many upstanding Chicago police officers out there. Most of them, frankly. But as the record unfortunately shows, there are still too many CPD officers refusing to respect their job, which is to use their badges to protect the public, not themselves. And if even the department’s own superintendent can’t take responsibility for their actions (that three month delay should be a big red flag, folks), then I can’t help but include him among the latter’s small but sorry ranks.

I don’t think an apology cuts it for Phil Cline anymore. I think it’s time for a resignation. And I’d like to hear about immediately, not three months later, thanks.

Of course, Phil Cline would actually have to acknowledge something more than embarrassment in order to resign. He’d have to take the blame. Judging by several quotes from Cline at yesterday’s press conference, he’s certainly good at shifting the blame to others:

Of the offending captain: “He misused the police resources out there. It was a terrible lack of judgment and leadership.” (Tribune)

Of the ranks: “They too are sickened by the actions of their fellow officers, who have blemished the reputation of this department.” (Tribune)

Of Abbate: “He’s tarnished our image worse than anybody else in the history of the department.” (Sun-Times)

I looked long and hard for a quote by Cline actually accepting responsibility for the 13,600-member police department that he ostensibly runs. I guess Cline ducked out the back door before that question was asked.

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