©1999 - 2012
Edward D. Reuss
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By Gina Gallo

It's a phenomenon that sometimes occurs in nature. Adult mammals who see the younger members of their species as a threat, or an unnecessary infringement on the food supply, will eat their young. In the animal kingdom, it's called the balance of nature, survival of the fittest.  When referring to humans, it's called something else entirely.
Lately, the policies of the Chicago Police Department regarding the treatment of their 'young'- the recruits and rookies with little or no street experience- have come under fire.  Following a series of shootings of and by rookies in high-crime districts, the media is blasting the Department's current 'assignment by seniority' policy.  In Chicago, seniority determines an officer's watch and district assignment, a practice that was hard won by FOP union leaders during contract negotiation.

Choice of district is considered an officer's reward for years spent in the trenches of the dangerous 'war zones'- districts such as Wentworth, Englewood, Grand Crossing and Austin.  According to present department theory, you can't be a good cop until you have some experience, and the best way to get it is a virtual 'baptism by fire' in a tough  district. Secure behind their polished desks and substantial bellies that have burgeoned with each decade of experience, Department officials contend that total submersion into the blood-and-guts arena of Crime Central is what seasons a cop, teaches him to walk the walk, talk the talk and learn the fine art of kicking ass and taking names. What better way to learn the rhythm of the streets than to be out there,  developing brass balls to go with your silver patrol officer's badge?  After the first gang fight, you're on your way, they figure.  Add a few felony arrests, a couple knock-down drag-out domestics,  maybe break up a drug deal or two, and you're starting to get in the zone. The Cop Zone, the one that defines you as the protector, the Law, the authority figure responsible for keeping those scales of street justice in delicate balance.

Which all sounds fine in theory, and on those television cop shows where the good guys get to go home, only slightly bruised after saving the day.  But what happens in real life, when green kids in brand new blues hit the street without a clue, pitting their lion's hearts and cub's experience against career criminals who flourish in the shadows of night?  Drug dealers, killers, gun-wielding crack freaks who lurk in the shadows recognize their weakest  prey, can smell the fear, and the uncertainty that reeks from the pores of rookies sweating through their first times, - the first time facing an armed man; the first time making a street stop, the first domestic disturbance where the drunken combatants are two quarts past reason and ready to kill whoever crossed their threshold.
As in nature, it's survival of the fittest on these mean streets, where  hesitation is considered weakness. As a result, rookie officers sometimes compensate for their lack of experience by a bravado show of reckless aggression, a dangerous practice  that can have devastating results.
Consider the facts.  In Chicago, most of the 'training districts' for recruits are in high crime areas .Recruits are  accompanied by field training officers only during their recruit period. Afterward, as rookies, their lack of seniority guarantees them an assignment in a war-zone district, where there's a scarcity of senior officers to work with them. Which means that inexperienced young cops are being thrust into a dangerous environment without a chance to hone  the instincts or skills that will increase their chances of survival.
A review of manpower statistics per police district in Chicago indicates that, in the high-crime districts of Englewood and Austin, over 36% of the patrol officers are rookies. Those districts ranked as the most dangerous districts in the city - Austin, Grand Crossing, Englewood and Wentworth- also have the highest percentage of officers with less that three years' experience. And over 80% of the officers who work the busiest shifts ( from 1600 hrs. to midnight, and midnight to 0800 hrs.)  are rookies.

Because officers with seniority tend to bid for the cushier assignments- the inside jobs or those districts with the lowest crime stats, there are no experienced officers to guide and educate the younger cops.  As a result, there's a higher incident of squad car accidents, greater problems containing citizens in street disturbances and a number of other situations that require an experienced cop's
savvy assessment more than the enthusiastic energy of the young rookie.
And, in the worst-case scenarios, inexperience can hamper judgement, substituting a fast response for the cautious reasoning process  that might mean the difference between life and death.
A Chicago citizen's recent shooting death involved four rookie officers whose combined street experience totaled less than ten years. The incident began when two rookie cops began the  pursuit of a vehicle for traffic violations.  Although the supervising field sergeant transmitted an order to terminate the pursuit, the rookies continued, eventually curbing the vehicle. The occupants remained in their car while the rookies began their approach.  Pumped on adrenaline and jittery fear, the officers shouted orders at the occupants, demanding that they exit the vehicle.  The driver exited first, hands raised high to indicate he offered no resistance. His female companion exited the passenger side door, holding up her arms as well, and clutching a portable cell phone.

Citizens who witnessed the scene reported that what followed was as unexpected as it was horrific.  The cell phone slipped out of the hand of the female occupant LaTanya Haggerty,  and clattered to the sidewalk. With one arm still raised high, she dipped down to retrieve it, and was shot and killed by the rookie cop.
Later, the rookie would tell Internal Affairs investigators that the cell phone looked like a gun, that LaTanya's movements indicated that she intended to rush toward the officer. Witnesses refuted this testimony, stating that the cell phone was obviously not a weapon, was easily identifiable from their vantage points of ten to twelve feet away. All reported that the rookie panicked, discharging her gun almost immediately. Since this incident, the rookie officers involved have been relieved of duty, pending termination.
In another incident, rookie officer Michael Ceriale, was  shot  while attempting the surveillance of  drug dealers at the Robert Taylor Homes, dangerous high-rise projects on Chicago's South Side. Just ten months out of the Police Academy, Ceriale and his partner, Joe Ferenzi worked together on the midnight watch in one of the city's most dangerous areas. In spite of their inexperience, they were allowed to work in plainclothes, attempting a police action that far exceeded their capabilities.
It's one thing to practice handcuffing techniques and basic come-along holds at the Academy, another thing entirely to know how to 'read the streets,' and safely establish a covert surveillance procedure without being 'made.'

Eager to prove themselves as dedicated cops, Ceriale and Ferenzi became victims of their own inexperience.  Cruising streets where the gunshots are as frequent as music blaring from the parade of low-riders, the rookie cops made their rounds in an unmarked Ford. 
Dazzled by the thrill of working out of uniform, eager to impress the bosses with a lot of arrests, Ceriali and Ferenzi attempted to gather intelligence on a drug operation run by the Gangster Disciples - a vicious South Side street gang.
The rookies huddled in the dark outside the building entrance, straining to maintain a visual on the gang members. Realization that they'd been identified as police came split seconds before the gunfire that claimed Ceriale's life.  Another young life sacrificed on the altar of inexperience.
The number of rookie deaths and injuries, and those of citizens victimized by these inexperienced officers continues to grow, yet the Chicago Police Department has no intention of changing their 'assignment by seniority' policy.  It's an earned privilege, they say, for all the veteran cops who've 'paid their dues.'
For most creatures on this planet, the natural instinct is to protect and teach  our young until they're strong enough to fend for themselves. Rules that should apply to us as law-enforcers, as a body of warriors assigned to keep the mayhem at bay. If we're only as strong as each individual member, why continue the brutal practice of 'eating our young?' Is a young cop's life less important than a comfortable desk job?  And if so, which of those self-satisfied senior officers will volunteer to speak to the family of the slain rookies, and explain about rank, and privilege, and 'paying dues'?

Copyright © 2000 by Gina Gallo - www.gallostories.com



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