Fox Lake, Do the Right Thing

A regular reader of this Blog nominated the Fox Lake, Illinois situation for a hero badge. I won’t do it, the situation in Fox Lake doesn’t meet the criteria.  I will restate the criteria to remind myself and my readers what it takes to be nominated for a hero badge.

A Nomination for a Hero Badge comes about when a course of action runs smack into reality. What seemed like a good idea moments before is less so in its execution. This can be an individual failure, the failure of the organization, poor planning or lack of proper training. Generally, it is not because Mr. Murphy of Murphy’s Law fame decided to put in an appearance. Nominees are limited to public safety agencies and its operatives.

It would be unfair to law enforcement, fire and EMS to include politicians because nobody else would ever be nominated. This is an ongoing affair.

What happened in Fox Lake, Illinois was the result of a series of conscious decisions, spanning years, on the part of the city council, mayor, city administrator and chief of police.  As a result of these decisions opportunities for corrective action were missed, proper oversight and audit functions were not performed and supervisory responsibilities were ignored.  Now the City wants to throw up its collective hands and point at a dead guy, saying it’s all his fault. BULLSHIT!

One of my favorite authors when I was in high school was James Mitchner. Other than South Pacific, you knew you had latched onto one his books because they typically began, “First there was dirt,” and then narrative tracked through the ages to get to where the story took place. In the end, Mitchner brought the story full circle and you were somehow glad that he started the tale with” First there was dirt.”

There would be a tendency to look at Gliniewicz face down in the dirt, shot with his own gun and say here, this is where the story begins.  We now know that this wasn’t the beginning.  Next the focus might shift to the audit of the Explorer funds, or maybe the original theft, still not there.  How about the appointment of a new city administrator? Nope, not far enough back. documents in an article a pattern of Misconduct on the part of Gliniewicz that goes back decades.  As put it Gliniewicz was hired in 1985 and for the first six years had no complaints in his personel file. It was downhill from there.  The file details complaints regarding alcohol abuse, sexual harassment, abuse of subordinates, and lying on reports.  The volume of complaints indicates this guy was a train wreck.  The fact that none of them were substantiated or substantiated without a sufficient sanction to prevent future occurrences, says the police administration dropped the ball.

In 2006 he was promoted to Lieutenant.  If he was the best candidate, what does this say about the department?   As a patrol Lieutenant he had a broad cross section of the department sending petitions to city council, objecting to his leadership, nothing happened.  

The New York Times picks up the story related to the Suicide and the misuse of Explorer funds.  Again it isn’t the fact that Gliniewicz stole the funds it was the lack of any internal controls or interest on the part of the administration in using proper accounting procedures.

Once Gliniewicz took over the Explorers, he now had an independent funding source.  A detailed audit may establish when the thefts began.  Again questions need to be asked.  Were the rules for such a charitable venture followed?  Was an independent audit mandated on a yearly basis?  Was it performed? Who had oversight? Were the Explorer funds and city funds commingled?

The Times article indicates that the FBI recovered thousands of digital messages.  In some of these messages there was discussion about setting the city administrator up for arrest or possibly murder.  In my experience there are two possible explanations for this casual approach to handling his problems.  One is that the good Lieutenant was so immersed in criminal behavior that plotting a murder was no big deal.  The second is a by product of number one, the threat of an investigation, had the murder been carried out, was no threat at all.

I was a cop for thirty years. I don’t need internal affairs to tell me which one of my coworkers has a drinking problem. I don’t have to peek in windows to find out who is boffing a co-worker or subordinate. Based on the membership and level of activity of an Explorer Troop I can formulate what reasonable monthly expenses ought to look like. All of this was apparently beyond the ability of anybody in Fox Lake, Illinois to accomplish. Time and again in instance after instance the biggest barrier to addressing police misconduct is to over come the inertia favored by police administrations.

Chiefs turn a blind eye to misconduct for a variety of bad reasons, while at the same time initiating internal investigations of relatively minor indiscretions. If the nature of the violation is confined to an individual and can be said to be the failure of the individual, then an internal investigation will come about.

If a complaint indicates that the failure involves multiple individuals involved in the act, or the cover up that follows, then it is less likely that an internal investigation will take place.  If the failure comes about due to poor, or no policy, inadequate supervision and poor follow-up there will not be an investigation. If it is likely an investigation will result in poor PR don’t hold your breath.  Administrative action may occur and half steps may be taken to alleviate the problem but the main concern will be to protect the department from embarrassment.  In many instances this allows the problem to continue to fester.

After one of our task force agents wrecked his g-ride he was required to take an urinalysis test.  The test results indicated that he had an extremely high concentration of cocaine in his sample.  Since agents are loaned to the task force by local police departments, the offending officer was reassigned back to his police department.  This took care of immediate security concerns.

Since we had an abundance of cocaine in our evidence lock up it seemed to follow that an audit be conducted.  The boss tried to get the FBI involved, nope, he called the Texas Rangers, they said wrong number, next came DPS Narcotics, they were too busy. So we did it ourselves.

We ended up recovering cocaine, other drugs and weapons stolen from the task force.  I was the case agent when we prosecuted the ex-agent in federal court. Needless to say we came in for criticism from a variety of angles.  We were unprepared for the criticism from police administrators.  Almost to a man, they questioned the decision to prosecute the individual.  They felt once the task force transferred the officer back to his police department our obligation was done.

Call me silly, naive, and stupid  but I remember reading this book and rereading it over the years.

In the mid sixties a New York City Patrolman Frank Serpico was assigned to plainclothes working vice and street crime.  He discovered what he already knew that NYPD officers were getting paid to look the other way.  Serpico didn’t “take” that is accept payoffs and he was not interested in causing trouble for those officers that did. However, the presence of an honest cop in their midst, was more than the dishonest cops could stand.  So the dishonest cops started messing with him.  If they had only left Serpico alone he would have retired by 1980 and there never would have been a Knapp Commission.

The dishonest cops pushed and Serpico pushed back.  He brought the corruption to light in a manner that could not be ignored.  The bosses knew there was corruption, even knew who was doing it and where it was happening.

Serpico’s unpardonable sin was he made the brass do something about it. When all the dust settled a bunch of cops went to jail, a police commissioner and senior police commanders lost their jobs, Al Pacino got rave reviews as a serious actor and Frank Serpico limped off into the sunset with a bullet in his head, a retired detective (3rd) badge in his pocket and a NYPD Medal of Valor issued by a property clerk.

In McAllen, Texas in the early 1980’s the police Chief  had a surveillance camera installed at the booking desk to monitor the actions of suspects and officers during the booking process.  It wasn’t long before a suspect jumped a distracted patrol officer at the booking desk. The officer fought back and knocked the suspect out.  The officer was sure his career was over and knew that any moment the police chief was going to fire him of the FBI was going to arrest him.  Nothing happened.

Weeks later, another fight, different officers.  The official feedback, casually delivered, “assholes had it coming.”  Pretty soon officers were playing to the camera and egging on fights.  The shift sergeant was leaving notes for the daylight commander telling what time to search for on the videotape. There was a highlight video circulating, made from videos to which only the administration had access. The officers and administration lost sight of the fact that the original purpose of the camera was to deter violence and document inappropriate behavior. Had the administration taken action at the first sign of inappropriate use of force, all that followed wouldn’t have happened.

Command has an obligation to set the standard and ensure that the standards are met and maintained.  At the same time, Command is subordinate to the city administration and elected officials and owes them a duty to report the condition of the command.  The elected city officials have an obligation to the voters to require that city business be conducted in an open and legal manner consistent with state law and the city charter.

Gliniewicz was just doing what came naturally, the problem is that nobody ever told him no in terms that he could understand. That is where the failure lies.