The campaign to persuade Mayor Daley to appoint Pat Hill superintendent of police was started by political maverick and cabdriver Steve Wiedersberg. "I got the idea after police chief Terry Hillard said he was stepping down in August," he says. "Crazy, huh?"
"Pat Hill for superintendent? Oh, my lord," says Joseph Roddy, a prominent criminal lawyer who specializes in defending police officers. He laughs. "I love Pat, but that's never going to happen. I have a better chance of becoming the police superintendent than Pat--and I don't have any chance at all."
Hill is a 52-year-old African-American police officer, born and raised on the city's south side and a public school gym teacher for 12 years. She works in the lockup at 51st and Wentworth and has been battling the department almost since the day she was sworn in back in 1986. President of the African American Police League since 1990, she's known for boldly speaking her mind, even if it means denouncing big shots. Putting her in charge of the police would be a little like putting George Schmidt--the outspoken high school teacher who was fired by Paul Vallas after publishing copies of the system's high school standardized tests--in charge of the public schools. "I know it's not gonna happen," says Hill. "But I think I could do the job."
Her detractors concede she's tough and smart. Her allies contend she would have been promoted years ago if it weren't for her frankness. "If I think something's misguided, racist, or dumb--and a lot of this stuff is--I'm gonna say so," she says. "Black cops come up to me and say, 'Pat, why you got to be so outspoken all the time?' I think they're worried 'cause, you know, this outspoken black woman's gonna make too much trouble. So first of all I let them know I think they're cowards. I tell them to their face, 'Why should I, a woman, have to do this?' The funny thing is, one of these brothers will get in some kind of trouble--and guess who he turns to? I get a call and it's 'Hey, Pat, don't tell no one I called.' I just have to laugh. I'm like, 'Well, well, well. Look who's on the line.'"
In the last 15 or so years Hill has repeatedly criticized department policies and programs. She's pointed to problems in CAPS. She's complained about affirmative action efforts. She's joined the Reverend Paul Jakes on his marches against police brutality. She's currently championing the right of officers to wear their hair in braids or dreadlocks, and she sits on the "people's" side of the courtroom in cases of police brutality--an act of heresy to many rank and filers. "In a lot of these cases of police brutality you have a divided courtroom--police on one side, people, which is generally just a handful of relatives of the kid who was beat up, on the other," she says. "I sit with the people. And I'm always gonna sit with the people as long as I think the people are right." As a result she's seen by many officers, particularly white ones, as a turncoat.
Hill has been written up by various supervisors at least 30 times over the past decade for minor violations that have had nothing to do with her interactions with the public. Once she was told not to wear an ankh ornament in her ear; she eventually won in court the right to do so. After she complained of headaches she was told a department doctor would have to give her a psychological test; she refused and was suspended, though the police board later ruled in her favor. Now she's defending herself against a three-day suspension for "public indebtedness." She explains: "The police are telling me they have a public-indebtedness rule, which means I can't owe the city any money. I'm trying to tell them I've got a legitimate dispute with the city over how much they say I owe on a water bill. This doesn't have anything to do with police work, so why are they even bringing it up? Let me ask you, do you think I'd be up against this if I wasn't Pat Hill? Lord, I've been suspended so many times I've almost lost count. I always say they balance their budgets with my suspensions. They must see me as a threat to the system. It also sends a message to other officers to discourage them from joining the league or even speaking out."
In many of these cases she's been represented by Roddy, who's also defended several white cops charged with brutality against blacks. "Joe and I usually find ourselves on the opposite sides of police brutality cases," says Hill. "But Joe's cool. He always calls me Patty. And I send him a Kwanza card every year. I also gave him a red, black, and green liberation flag to put in his office."
Roddy says last year's Kwanza card is still on his desk. "She's a great human being," he says. "You have to admire her. She's absolutely fearless. The country needs more Pat Hills."
Roddy even thinks she'd make a good police superintendent. "Would she get the job?" he says. "No. Could she do it? Yes. She certainly knows the ups and downs of the department."
What kind of police superintendent would Hill make? She certainly wouldn't defend the department reflexively. "I'm sick of the attitude that it's only one or two bad apples when a cop gets caught doing something stupid," she says. "Let's be honest. The system is so archaic and stupid I'm just shocked that people tolerate it. It's a power issue out there--these cops are taking advantage of the public's ignorance. It's not right, and it's reinforced in the training. Too many police officers realistically know that if they were not police officers they'd be digging ditches somewhere. They know they're not qualified. They don't want to better themselves. They get drunk with this power that 'I'm the police and I can take your rights away anytime I want to.'"
Yet she also says she'd push the mayor to hire more cops: "The force is down in numbers. They say they have 13,500 or so cops on the budget, but they really only have 10,000 or so. Actually no one really knows how many they have. They're just pushing numbers around on paper, making half of the stuff up as they go along. You know how it goes--they budget in cops they don't have and then spend the money somewhere else. Same old game. I'm saying, 'Look, be honest. If you budget the cops, hire them. We certainly need them.'"
She'd also hire more black and Hispanic officers. "We've got to," she says. "Only about 24 percent of the department is black--the city's a lot blacker than that. The demographics of the department have to represent the demographics of the city. I'm not saying that police brutality will disappear if we hire more blacks. Some of these black and Hispanic cops can be pretty bad. They begin to identify with the dominant culture, and they're into their power mode when you give them a badge and a gun. But you have a better chance of cutting down on brutality issues if you hire more black cops. 'Cause a black officer might recognize black kids. A black officer sees a kid hanging out on the street and he says, 'Oh, that's Johnny's boy.' A white officer ain't gonna know it's Johnny's boy, and he's gonna be less inclined to give him a break. If it's a black cop who recognizes Johnny's boy, he might say, 'Get your ass in the car--I'm taking you home!' Maybe the white guy says, 'Get your ass in the car--I'm taking you to jail!'"
When Hill talks about the need to coordinate services she sounds less like an officer and more like a social worker. "Police can't do it all," she says. "There's a thing called 'integrated paradigm.' That means you take all the agencies--police, health care, social service--and have them work in an integrated manner. In the case of Englewood--which I know a lot about 'cause I've worked here so long--you have lot of health issues, like mental illness, that become social issues 'cause they're not treated. I shouldn't say this publicly, but I will say it--Englewood is messed up. You have a small geographic area with a bunch of people in it. I don't care what anybody says, you can't have 50 people living together. We would arrest somebody and find out that everyone's related. 'Oh, that's my sister.' Or 'That's my cousin.' Or 'That's my daddy's other children.' No one public entity can deal with this all by itself. You need the schools and the churches and the social agencies--everything. You ain't gonna solve it, people, by just bringing in the police to knock heads and throw people in jail."
Wiedersberg would love to see Hill at the head of the department. He doesn't believe the mayor would ever put her there, but he's pushing the idea anyway. "Here's how it got started," he says. "I was calling Pat up for something, and you know how I'm always teasing her. 'Lemme speak to Congressman Hill.' Or 'Lemme speak to Deputy Chief Hill.' Well, this one day, right after Hillard announced he was stepping down, I said, 'Lemme speak to Superintendent Hill.' And then I thought, well, why the hell not? Harold [Washington] always said it would be a good idea for the police to take a blue shirt--someone from the rank and file--to run the department. And Pat's a good person. She'd shake things up. And ain't it about time we had a woman police chief?"
Wiedersberg made a few phone calls. The Defender ran an article. Callers began talking up the notion on Cliff Kelley's call-in show on WVON. But no aldermen have rushed forward to endorse Hill, and 29th Ward alderman Isaac Carothers, a Daley loyalist who chairs the council's police and fire committee, says, "I have no personal opinion regarding Pat Hill one way or another. It's up to the mayor to support who he wants. My position is I can work with anyone the mayor appoints. If the mayor appoints Pat Hill, I can work with her."
Carothers does agree with Hill that the force is understaffed, though not as much as she thinks. "The actual number of police we have is debatable," he says. "They have 13,600 in the budget, and the department says they're 194 down. But I think we're down more than that. I've had private talks with sources in the department who tell me that we're 300 to 400 down."
Since Wiedersberg started floating Hill's name, Daley has said he's been thinking of hiring a woman police chief. Hill laughs at the irony. "It usually works that way," she says. "You got someone battling on the outside for minority representation or whatever, and then when we raise so much noise, the system appoints a black or woman from inside. I'll tell you something funny. A white cop came up to me
and he said, 'Listen, if you become superintendent I'll work for you.' He stood in the hallway and said it for everyone to hear. I said, 'Man, I could hug you.' We started laughing and went on our way. What the hell--Pat Hill as police superintendent. It doesn't sound too bad."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Drea.