Compaints served in alleged racially charged cop statements
by BRIAN NADIG
Two Chicago police officers reportedly have been served with complaints in connection with an investigation into Alderman John Arena’s (45th) allegations 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 officers were recently served with a "Complaint Register Number" and notice of a hearing on the allegations. It is not known if more of the 31 officers will be served with complaints. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which looks into complaints against officers, did not immediately comment on the report.
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, according to city documents released from a Freedom of Information Act request.
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’s office 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. There also is a report that some of the officers who publicly opposed the housing project could face disciplinary action for social media comments not related to the proposal and which were possibly made several years ago.
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 credits next year for the project. The state has denied two previous applications for the tax credits.