Officer: Felons Policy Unfair to Black Cops

Frank Main, Chicago Sun-Times, October 14, 2007

An African-American Chicago Police officer contends that a rule barring cops from associating with criminals discriminates against black officers.

The officer argues the rule is more restrictive on black officers because of the disproportionate number of African Americans who have had contact with the criminal justice system.

Last month, a supervisor warned Officer Sylvia Broadway she might have violated department rules—asking if she knew that a man driving her car was a convicted felon.

Broadway, a 13-year veteran in the Wentworth District, said she was unaware the man was a felon until she asked him later.

The department is enforcing a “policy that appears to have bias overtones against a specific racial group, namely African Americans,” she said to the supervisor in a memo. “It is as though a deliberate trap has been set for African-American police officers.”

Some 8.4 percent of all black males ages 25 to 29 were in the U.S. prison population, according to a 2004 Bureau of Justice Statistics report, compared with 2.5 percent of Hispanic males that age, and 1.2 percent of white males.

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She also contends Rule 47 conflicts with the U.S. Constitution, discriminating against convicted criminals who paid their debt to society. In an interview, she said Rule 47 is void because the Police Board passed a different set of rules in 1987 that did not include it.

‘No one stopped him’

On Sept. 11, Broadway was approached by her watch commander. He informed her a convicted felon had driven her car, which was parked near 57th and Calumet. She said she had known the man about seven months, and was unaware of his criminal record. He worked for a construction firm, she said.

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Rule 47 was originally designed to break up cozy relationships between cops and the mob. It’s been in the headlines a few times in the past decade.

‘He was a friend’

In 1997, police Supt. Matt Rodriguez retired because of his association with an ex-con, telling reporters: “I didn’t look on him as Frank the felon. He was a friend.”

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Fraternal Order of Police President Mark Donahue said he does not have a problem with the rule. He said the department does not discipline officers whose family members have criminal records. “The FOP has accepted Rule 47,” he said.

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