Word from the front | Bleader

Word from the front

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"People don't want to hear it, but people act crazy when it gets warm, and it's too bad but something like this ends up happening," a police officer told me Wednesday when I asked what he thought was behind Chicago's recent burst of gun violence, including the fatal shootings of five civilians by cops in the last two weeks.

"The police didn't have any choice," said his partner. "And everybody always talks about how they shot somebody 'multiple' times. That's because those people don't drop their weapons!"

"At least this isn't New York. They might've been shot 50 times," said the first one.

The officers said morale among the rank and file is low. Last year Mayor Daley created a new misconduct investigative body and hired a new police chief from outside the department, and ever since, these officers said, cops on the street are routinely second-guessed by citizens, the media, activists, politicians, and, sometimes, their superiors. "We're guilty until proven innocent," said the second officer.

The first made the "few bad apples" argument--that most cops are in the business because they genuinely want to help people, but a handful without common sense or regard for the neighborhoods they patrol cause all the problems. Most confrontations, he added, can be avoided long beforehand if officers communicate with people in their communities and get their help. He spoke of a colleague who's known and widely respected throughout the neighborhood where they work, even by gang members and drug dealers, because he takes the time to stop and talk to people. "He's not one of those John Wayne types kicking down doors," he said.

So how do you teach the John Waynes another way--or keep them off the force altogether? "Maybe that goes back to the police academy," he said. "Maybe you need to train them to interact with the community--to get them out here when they're training. Listen, you wouldn't put a reporter on the job if they didn't know how to talk to people and listen to people, would you? We shouldn't either. Especially us."

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