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November 16, 2009

Officers Debate Supporting Comrades who Commit Crimes



*Appeared in the Beacon News on Sunday, November 1, 2009

You probably heard about the Chicago police detective who was involved in an off-duty car accident last April that resulted in the deaths of two young men on the Dan Ryan Expressway. The detective was allegedly drunk behind the wheel and was charged with reckless homicide, DUI, and leaving the scene of an accident.

It goes without saying that the outcome of this accident is absolutely tragic. Not only did two young men perish, but the fact that the officer was purportedly driving while intoxicated, tarnishes the integrity of his badge and defies the oath that is synonymous with wearing that badge. Far be it from me to even attempt to defend his alleged irresponsibility and blatant disregard for the law that took the lives of two human beings.

It is always front page news when a police officer is involved in criminal activity. The story again made headlines last week, but for a very different reason. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Hall served as the venue for a benefit to raise money for the detective to assist with living expenses, legal fees and defense experts. The mothers of the 21 and 23 year old men who perished in the accident were outraged at the notion that other police officers would support someone who exercised such poor judgment. I vehemently agree.

This incident has sparked some interesting debate among my fellow police officers. It is not surprising to me that most officers say they would neither purchase a ticket nor attend a benefit for an officer who made such an egregious error in judgment. The majority couldn’t reconcile themselves to the moral disregard for the law and the subsequent consequences. I even took a momentary introspective and reflective look into myself and decided that if it had been me who had drove drunk and killed two people; I wouldn’t allow a benefit to be held on my behalf. My guilt and self-loathing would prohibit pity from anyone who genuinely tried to assist.

There were a group of my colleagues, albeit a minority, who said they would contribute to the officer and for every reason I gave in opposition, there were those with strong convictions in favor of the fundraiser. The common theme was that the money raised should go to the family of the accused officer. The thought was they were collateral victims and shouldn’t have to suffer a monetary hardship because of the officer’s actions. One officer took it ever further and pointed out that we can never really know the depth and breadth of a person’s suffering. By that, he wondered if the officer had a problem with alcohol that could have been recognized or diagnosed well before the accident.

Those who said they would contribute are not morally corrupt individuals. In fact, I consider those who held the opposing viewpoint to be ethical and levelheaded. Their perspective was rooted in compassion but we just saw the situation differently. I can empathize with the need to assist the officer’s family but my thoughts were never far from that of the families of the deceased men. You can’t empathize for one and not the others.

None of us who engaged in this discussion knew the Chicago officer. If it was a close comrade, we may have changed our stance even with the understanding that the officer made a horrible mistake. When human emotion is an added variable to decision-making, objectivity becomes clouded. In the big picture, our stance on the fundraiser is of little importance as compared to the lives that have been profoundly altered by this accident. Just ask the mothers of those young men.

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