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‘Do you know who I am?’ Investigators say Cook County commissioner pressed cops to scrap ally’s $250 parking ticket

Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Chicago Tribune
by Juan Perez Jr.

A Cook County commissioner pushed cops to scrap an ally’s $250 parking ticket, according to a government watchdog who said the case “perpetuated a culture” where politics can influence police work. A report issued Monday by county Inspector General Patrick Blanchard’s office doesn’t name the actors in the parking ticket spat, nor does it specify when or where the incident occurred in the county’s forest preserve jurisdiction.

But Blanchard’s office lays out an elected official’s alleged work to not only dismiss a political associate’s citation for parking in a disabled-only space, but also press a high-ranking county Forest Preserve police official to schedule a meeting between the commissioner and the officers who wrote the ticket to question them about their conduct. Both the commissioner and police official violated a county ordinance that aims to keep politics out of employment actions, Blanchard concluded.

Blanchard recommended authorities consider “significant disciplinary action” for that police official — and reinstate the parking ticket. Forest Preserve police also should establish new policies to discourage political interference in investigations, the IG report said.

“Political connections and influence must never steer or determine outcomes in law enforcement functions,” Blanchard’s office said in its report. “This is true whether law enforcement is engaged in issuing parking or traffic tickets or investigating serious crimes.” Blanchard’s office also forwarded its report to the county ethics office, which can investigate the allegations and recommend sanctions against the unnamed commissioner, who serves in a dual role on the county and forest preserve boards. A forest preserve spokesman, in a statement, said the department did not comment on ongoing personnel discipline reviews and was exploring its legal options to reinstate a voided citation. “We take this situation very seriously,” spokesman Carl Vogel said. The Forest Preserve District "has worked hard to remove any political considerations from our operations, and to make sure the preserves are welcoming and accessible to people of all abilities.” According to the inspector general: The commissioner’s political ally received a $250 parking ticket for illegally parking in a space reserved for the disabled, then reached out to the commissioner to escape the fine.

The county commissioner then contacted a Forest Preserve police official to dismiss the ticket — and asserted the officer “displayed a poor attitude” when interacting with his associate. The ranking police official then ordered the officer and a trainee to report to a meeting with the commissioner. In an interview with the inspector general’s office, the county commissioner claimed to have contacted the police official to contest the ticket, address relations between law enforcement and minority groups, and learn the procedures to challenge the ticket. Blanchard ultimately concluded the commissioner improperly attempted to use his authority on behalf of a political ally, while the police official failed by allowing the commissioner to succeed. Wasted police resources dismissed a parking ticket, Blanchard said, while an officer was “personally subjected to criticism" from a county commissioner. “And a FPPD trainee started his career observing what it can mean to issue a citation to someone … who utters the words, ‘do you know who I am?’ as was the case here,” Blanchard’s report said. “These circumstances perpetuated a culture, if not a custom and practice, that political influence has its place in law enforcement activities.”

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