The Chicago Police Department is washing out qualified recruits on technicalities or city mistakes because of a “discriminatory” hiring practice that appears to target the sons, daughters and other relatives of police officers, an attorney for bypassed candidates charged Monday.
The Circuit Court suit filed last week by attorney Dan Herbert currently has only two named plaintiffs, both of whom are seeking $50,000 in compensatory damages and re-entry to the police academy.
But Herbert said he has since discovered that the discrimination is “far more widespread” and he expects to add at least 35 more names.
“The people I have spoken to are all relatives of police officers. There’s just too much smoke here. There has to be fire,” said Herbert, a former Chicago Police officer who once served as in-house counsel to the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
“Qualified candidates are being disqualified from the hiring process for improper reasons and we believe that one of those reasons is going to be that they are related to police officers. My guess is they’re concerned about civil suits. There may be a school of thought out there that police officers’ kids are more likely to be aggressive and more likely to be defendants in a lawsuit.”
Herbert said the washed-out candidates he’s interviewed have been disqualified for a variety of reasons.
Carmita Harris showed up at the police academy on Dec. 14 — as instructed by the congratulatory email she received from the city — only to be sent home on grounds that the Police Department had made a “mistake” by summoning her to begin training before her background check had been completed.
Harris had already quit her job as customer service representative for Stericycle.
Robert Zieman, who currently works as a police officer outside the city, was washed out after allegedly failing to respond to a Police Department email he insists that he never received.
The suit contends that Tracy Ladner, director of the Police Department’s human resources division, disqualified Zieman but made exceptions for other candidates who made similar claims about emails not received. The Police Department openly acknowledged that the city’s email system was to blame for similar oversights.
Yet another candidate was accused of failing some portion of the psychological exam — even after spending all of five minutes talking current events with a Police Department psychologist, Herbert said.
“Whatever the motive is, the hiring process with the Police Department is at the very least broken. They act in arbitrary ways and they are incredibly disrespectful to these candidates,” Herbert said.
“It sends a horrible message. These candidates should be and are excited to come on and work as police officers and their first interaction with the department is to be treated with disdain and disregard. It’s no wonder there are so many police officers disgruntled at a young age.”
Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew said the city has not yet been served with the lawsuit and, therefore, has not “had a chance to review the claims.”
The explosive allegations of discriminatory hiring come at a time when Mayor Rahm Emanuel is flooding the streets with moonlighting police officers working overtime on their days off and ramping up police hiring to keep pace with a wave of retirements that left Chicago with just 11 more officers on patrol at the end of 2012 than there were when the mayor took office.
Emanuel campaigned on a promise to add 1,000 police officers not now on the street. Instead, he has reassigned 1,019 police officers to beat patrol, half of whom already had been on the street in now-disbanded specialized units.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported in late December that, as of Oct. 15, a total of 6,638 rank-and-file officers were assigned to police beats citywide, down from 6,746 beat cops at the start of 2011.
The reason is simple: For every newly hired officer assigned to a beat during the past two years, six other sworn officers have retired. And because about 1,200 retirements have sharply depleted the payroll, rank-and-file police staffing even in some high-crime areas where new officers were added last year is again declining, the Sun-Times found.