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Crooked cops raise a stink across the Southland

Wednesday, December 03, 2008
SouthtownStar
by SouthtownStar editorial staff

The issue: An FBI drug sting resulted in the arrests of 17 men, including four Harvey police officers, 10 Cook County corrections officers and one Chicago cop.

We say: With undercover deals in Tinley Park and Oak Lawn parking lots to seedy strip clubs in Harvey, few suburban communities were spared from the actions of accused dirty cops.

I f you think you're not affected by today's Page 1 news because you live in a nice house in a safe neighborhood in a good suburb, we beg to differ.

From train stations to suburban airports, drug dealers, informants and enforcers mingle among law-abiding citizens. This disturbing story of an FBI probe into dirty cops and drug deals serves as a reminder to how interconnected we are in the Southland and the Chicago region in general.

FBI officials are accusing 17 people - mostly public safety officials - of accepting up to $4,000 each to serve as lookouts and intervene if honest police or rival drug dealers attempted to interfere with what they believed to be shipments of cocaine and heroin. The men, including Harvey cops and Cook County correctional officers, protected drug shipments, provided security at a high-stakes poker game and protected the transportation of large amounts of cash, federal prosecutors alleged Tuesday.

"When drug dealers deal drugs, they ought to be afraid of the police - not turn to them for help," U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald called it "particularly shocking" that cops helped unload and deliver drug shipments.

Sadly, we are not as shocked. For years, this newspaper's investigative efforts called attention to the suspect actions of some officers in the Harvey Police Department. Today, thanks to the efforts of the FBI, some of those officers now stand charged with crimes. These people, entrusted with responsibility for law and order, made choices to steal, cheat and betray. And the culprits be confined to one small town with a sordid history. The men, officials say, hailed from homes in Joliet, Richton Park, Country Club Hills and Glenwood. Two are in Afghanistan (the world's biggest heroin bazaar) supposedly fighting for our freedom. And the "deals" spread out across the region ---taking place in retail and hotel parking lots in Homewood, Tinley Park, Oak Lawn, Matteson and Bolingbrook.

How far will this spread? So far it's hard to tell. But it's clear that corruption knows no borders.

With cops accused of joining in the illegal drug trade and the violence it brings, it's also clear that thousands of innocent, hardworking Harvey residents weren't protected, but endangered by those sworn to protect and service.

One police officer's chilling comment, included in the indictment, seems to show a city police force serving as training ground for thugs: "I ain't always been in law enforcement ... I use my street knowledge as well as what they taught me on the force to watch and learn body language, cars and we can do things on an as to know basis."

The residents of this region owe a considerable debt to the FBI agent who went undercover more than a year ago at a Harvey strip club, establishing himself as a drug broker looking for police to provide security for drug deals.

We applaud the authorities for bringing these charges, but we know there is more work to do. We know this investigation can reach more deeply into the belly of the corrupt beast. Crooked cops and officials must be a constant focus for federal and state justice officials.

The citizens of Illinois deserve no less.



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