The numbers speak for themselves. Five Chicago police officers were shot to death in the last six months. Does that mean anything? Why should you even care? I’ll tell you why. It affects us all.
The public, whether you know it or not, is directly affected by police officer murders. The vast number of citizens truly care about the police officers that served (and still serve) their communities. All you need to do is to look at the recent outcries in the Chicago metro area when municipalities have been forced to lay off police employees. The citizens want their police.
As the police chief of west suburban Riverside, a beautiful community of 9,000, you may be asking yourself, “How does this affect me?”
Police officer homicides affect the whole law-enforcement community. When one of Chicago’s police officers is murdered in the line of duty, you can be assured it is felt far beyond the city of Chicago borders. Let me give you an example of this.
I currently serve as the chairperson for the West Suburban Directed Gang Enforcement task force (WEDGE). This task force includes the communities of Berwyn, Brookfield, Cicero, Forest Park, Lyons, North Riverside, Oak Park, Riverside, River Forest and Stickney. The task force was formed in 2006 as a direct result of the extraordinary police work by the Chicago Police Department.
In case you don’t know, Chicago is doing a great job of pushing its crime west. In 2006 the Chicago Police Department stepped up its efforts in gang and drug enforcement, which caused the displacement of criminals and related violent criminal activity to the west suburbs. At that time suburban police departments lacked manpower of our larger neighbor, Chicago. We also lacked certain informational resources, and that is why WEDGE was formed.
The self-admitted gang members who have murdered Chicago police officers don’t just operate in Chicago; they know no borders. The same gang members are coming to the suburbs to commit their violent crimes because they view the suburbs as having less sophisticated policing. I have news for you; that’s not true.
Our WEDGE task force has been very successful in removing active street gang members from our communities in what can only be described as a regional approach to law enforcement.
So where do we go from here? Is the answer legislative? It could be.
I also currently serve as vice president of the West Suburban Chiefs of Police Association and am active in the Illinois Chiefs Association Legislative Committee.
I, along with many other law enforcement executives, have been pushing, but have been unable to get, a Reasonable Overhear statute passed for officer safety in Illinois. We have been trying for the past 10 years to get this legislation, and it is absolutely disgraceful that it has not been passed.
I would venture to say that most Illinois citizens are completely unaware that Illinois is only one of two states that requires two-party consent for overhear (the other being Alaska).
What is overhear? It is eavesdropping. Illinois law restricts police from recording conversations without a court order. Because of the many obstacles associated with obtaining a court order to overhear conversations, very few police investigations utilize this recorded evidence. In addition to the obvious evidentiary value to police, this evidence can also be used to protect the rights of a defendant against police misconduct.
For the last decade I have been directly involved in trying to introduce legislation that would allow one-party consent overhear for narcotics officers only during the performance of their duties. Even under this limited scope, we have had no success. Why is that?
Politicians in Springfield have not allowed this issue to have an up-or-down vote. Absolutely appalling. Do you think this is indicative of the respect that our state legislators have for law enforcement?
This legislation is a no-brainer, strictly an officer-safety initiative that would directly and vastly improve the safety conditions that undercover narcotics officers operate in daily. But the answer still continues to be no.
Remember, the same self-admitted active gang members who are gunning down Chicago police officers, will be making their way to suburban agencies soon enough. Suburban street officers can tell you that. The time to act is now!
In closing, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the family members of each Chicago police officer killed in the line of duty this year. I also want to say that I am also extremely proud of the outstanding police work being done by our partners at the Chicago Police Department. You have my continued support.
Thomas Weitzel is the police chief of Riverside.