Officer reportedly served with complaint; Arena alleges police, firefighters made racially charged remarks against Jeff Pk housing plan
by BRIAN NADIG
A Chicago police officer reportedly has been served with a complaint in connection with an investigation into allegations by Alderman John Arena (45th) that 31 officers made "racially charged" comments on social media against a planned mixed-income housing development at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy.
According to a source, the officer was recently served with a "Complaint Register Number" and notice of a hearing on the allegation. It is not known if additional officers have been served.
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which looks into complaints against officers, did not immediately comment on the report. COPA has had Arena’s complaints for at least eight months, and this could be the first officer to be served with a CR number in connection with Facebook comments made against the housing proposal.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 has threatened to file a lawsuit against the city for which it claims are false allegations against the officers. The union has claimed that the officers should maintain the right to comment on zoning proposals in the city.
Also, up to about 15 Chicago firefighters were served with official complaints from the Chicago Fire Department’s Internal Affairs Division earlier this year, and several have already had their hearing, which reportedly included questions about their views on race.
Arena’s office kept a spreadsheet on about 80 current and retired government workers who reportedly made online comments against the housing proposal. Last year Arena’s office contacted the American Civil Liberties Union about the comments, but the ACLU reportedly did not want to take any action itself against the workers. Arena later contacted the city’s Inspector General, and that reportedly led to the fire department and COPA launching its own investigations.
Arena has said that he felt obligated to file the complaints in response to concerns that some of his constituents found the workers’ comments offensive. In some instances the person posting the comment on Facebook did not identify him- or herself as a government worker, and Arena’s spreadsheet indicated that his staff was seeking to confirm the identity of some of the online posters and which government entity they may work for.
In some of the comments, the housing proposal was compared to Cabrini Green, while other comments were critical of the alderman.
On the Second CIty Cop blog, some posters have characterized Arena’s complaints as a witch hunt and a violation of the officers’ freedom of speech rights. Others have said that the complaints are having a chilling effect, as city workers may be less likely to publicly speak out about the proposal.
The City Council recently approved the zoning for the 75-unit housing project, which would include a mix of affordable, CHA and market-rate apartments, 15 of which would be reserved exclusively for veterans. The developer plans to seek low-income tax housing credits next year for the project. The state has denied two previous applications for the tax credits.