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Interview: The "Second City Cop"

By Karl Klockars in News on Feb 28, 2008 8:12PM

scclogo022808.jpgIt's interesting to try to do an interview with someone - or a group of someones - when you don't know who they are. Moreover, you don't want to know who they are. The anonymity of the Second City Cop group (SCC, from here on out) is mandatory for the type of writing/reporting/rumor-following done on if they were to reveal themselves, the repercussions could be...major.

Out of the ashes of, SCC has been covering police activity in Chicago since May of ’05, and has become the voice for the beat cop. They are ground zero for rumblings among the ranks, ranting against reporters and taking on clout and the power structure of Chicago the CPD from the streets on up. Since the start, they've been blogging about the CPD with anger, honesty, sarcasm, sensitivity and humor.

Police in Chicago have taken a bruising in the past year; SCC makes it always interesting to read the no-bullshit take on the inner world of cops. Moreover, it humanizes police in a way that is hard to get when one's only interaction is the occasional speeding ticket. Not only that, but it's tough being a cop, especially in this city - it's a window into the daily lives of those who Protect and Serve, and with over 7,000 hits a day, people certainly are curious.

We traded a few emails with them and discussed the new Superintendent ("J-Fed," in their parlance), the Abbate situation, and how they deal with being a different kind of "undercover" after the jump.

Chicagoist: It’s been about a month since Jody Weis has been the Superintendent, and it seemed to you that he’s gotten off on the right foot. What do you think is going to be the main problem for him in his tenure, from the standpoint of officers and from the standpoint of regular citizens?

Second City Cop: Well, he's starting at the right spot. Patrol Division, specifically, the men and women on the front lines, doing the job day in and day out while badly undermanned.

From the officers' standpoint? He's got to earn our trust. The politics of this job are unbelievable and cronyism runs rampant. You can't even begin to understand the problems unless you sit down with half a dozen old timers and listen to the stories.

With citizens, it's the same thing. He has to be seen as making changes, enforcing discipline, firing trouble makers. It's all image.

When he runs up against the special interest groups, politicians and reverends, that'll be the real test to see if he truly has a free hand to institute changes.

C: Do the resignations/firings/promotions in the last few days and weeks support your feelings on Weis? Or do they offer anything new to the equation?

SCC: We're still taking a wait-and-see attitude. Change was inevitable at the top. We'll have to see how the changes pan out. There is bound to be a ton more movement as the new bosses reorganize their respective bureaus and put their people in where they want. Some of the moves seem sound, we question a few of the others. But as is said, you can't please all of the people all of the time and frankly, J-Fed would be a fool to try to please everyone. It's pandering and you can't run a Department like that.

C: You spend a lot of time writing about the media, reporters, and how police officers are covered in the city and beyond. If you had to give a rookie beat reporter a primer on “how to deal with/write about cops and crime stories,” what would it read like?

SCC: Cops are naturally secretive, reporters are naturally nosy. Reporters have a duty to keep the public informed, cops have a vested interest in keeping certain aspects of investigations secret (M.O., witnesses, things of that nature). They are naturally at odds with one another.

It didn't used to be that way. Reporters knew enough to keep their pens to themselves in some instances, cops knew how to work with reporters to get information going both ways. Not anymore.

How to write about cops? Most cops are regular guys and gals with a desire to serve; to be part of something larger than themselves. We didn't come on thinking that this was just a job - this was the fulfillment of a dream for most of us. We knew we weren't going to get rich, but we'd do okay.

Too many reporters talk down to cops. We've experienced it firsthand. Our opinion is that there are far more cops who can do a reporter's job than the other way around. Look at the blog - we'd put our talent up against any set of reporters and you couldn't tell the difference. Now switch it - how many reporters do you know who could chase a gunman at Altgeld Gardens? Pull a body out of a crushed car? Tell a mother her son isn't coming home ever again?

When talking to a cop, a reporter has to realize the cop has probably seen things that would make normal people puke. Perhaps the cop even lost his lunch the first time they saw something. And a cop has dealt with people at their worst, not hours later with an angle to play and after they've been coached by someone with an ax to grind.

And, yes, we're as prone to exaggeration as the next guy with a fish story to tell. But having to testify about how something happened puts a damper on most of it.

C: When you say, “It didn't used to be that way,” at what point do you think did it change, and what do you think made that change happen?

A million reasons it changed. Back in the 40's and 50's, every reporter knew ballplayers were habitual womanizers and drunks - no one reported it (they still don't). Back in the 60's, reporters knew JFK was screwing around - no one reported it. In the 70's, everyone wanted to be the next Woodward and Bernstein and a lot of professional courtesies went out the window between reporters and politicians (witness Gary Hart).

Police are among the lowest of functionaries in the executive branch of government, so maybe it started to pick up steam there? We really don't know what began the change, but we're still seeing reverberations today. You could give us a million reasons and we could opine a million more.

C: It’s been about a year since the Anthony Abbate story broke. You’ve written in the past about how things are going to play out for him personally, but how do you think it’s impacted the department? And how has it affected you personally (or as close to personally as you can say)? It seems that that incident really let the lid off of a “we hate cops” sentiment for a lot of people.

SCC: How hasn't it affected the Department? It's brought us to lows unseen since the Summerdale days. Not even 7 years ago, everyone loved the police and firemen after 9/11 because just by wearing the uniform we were a symbol of people who'd be willing to lay down their lives to save others. Now, because of an off-duty drunk who never should have been on the job in the first place, a lot of that respect is in tatters. There are other incidents, but not with video, so it has had a disproportionate impact.

Personally? We're as sober as a boatload of judges here. We don't drink to excess, we know when to say when, we aren't out beating bartenders over unresolved personal issues. Abbate needed to be fired over this issue, no question about it. Tens of felony charges is ridiculous though. It's a political move by people trying to make a name for themselves.

It didn't really remove the lid off the "we hate cops" sentiment. People who hated the police before had ammunition to say "see?!?" People who supported us continued to. It's probably just that a lot of stuff came to a head at the same time (Abbate, fatal DUI's, SOS, etc) and it gave the overwhelming impression of a Department out of control. By broadcasting the tape over and over and over and over, it made it a lot more acceptable to rip on the police and assume the worst. But the stage had been set for that years ago.

C: You say, “he shouldn't have been on the force in the first place?” Why was he allowed to be on the force, in your opinion?

SCC: Clout, plain and simple. He had a history of questionable incidents that would have kept a lesser connected individual off the force and then a couple of problems during his career that would have gotten other people suspended or fired. That's all we can say about that.

C: How hard is it to maintain anonymity in your day to day work? It seems that depending on the information you write about, it might be possible to deduce who you are – or is that the reasoning behind having multiple people writing for the site? And does that make you nervous at all? After all, “three people can have a secret only when two are dead.”

SCC: It's somewhat difficult on occasion. But so much of what we write is reader generated. Our e-mail address book list is a few hundred names and we get mail constantly. So what one person might be talking about in a District or a bar gets sent to us by one or more people who participated in the conversation. Sometimes we quote the mail, sometimes we summarize. That allows us some distance and concealment. As for multiple people writing, we've worked with these people for years. We trust them.

C: Why did you start writing the SCC blog?

SCC: We like to talk and we've got opinions on everything. Mainly we do it to entertain ourselves. Sometimes we get people to agree with us, sometimes we get to see a different perspective on things. We've gleaned insight into all sorts of events, actions, things of that nature.

C: What do you hope to accomplish with it?

SCC: We love to see the citizens of Chicago awake from their slumber and realize how much for granted they take their Police Department and that we are victims of the political "combine" (as John Kass called it) that is bleeding this City, County and State dry of jobs, services and tax base. Other than that, we'd like to rule the world after Seiser steps down.

C: Do you ever forsee a day when you can come out from under the veil of anonymity? I remember reading what you wrote a posting on the "Checkerboard Chat" page making a point about "putting a name to a complaint" and so on.

Not in this political climate. The powers that be aren't able to separate our legitimate criticisms in the main posts from the sometimes wild accusations that populate the comments section. The mere fact that we provide a forum for dissent and unwanted spotlighting of certain behavior will doom us. That other blog site that we won't mention is run by two political insiders who have nothing to fear as long as they parrot the company line. Screw them.