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Top Forest Preserve cop quits after burying ticket of county pol’s pal who asked ‘Do you know who I am?

Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Chicago Sun-Times
by Mitchell Armentrout

Top Forest Preserve cop quits after burying ticket of county pol’s pal who asked ‘Do you know who I am?’

Pope was not named in the scathing report released Tuesday by the county inspector general’s office. But forest preserve officials say he helped dismiss the ticket that was issued to a “political associate” of the unnamed commissioner.

 

Former Forest Preserve District Police Chief Kelvin Pope pictured at a July 2018 press conference alongside Commissioner Luis Arroyo Jr. Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

The Cook County Forest Preserves chief of police has resigned after a government watchdog revealed he helped make a parking ticket disappear for a county commissioner’s associate caught in a disabled-only parking spot.

Chief Kelvin Pope submitted his letter of resignation Tuesday, according to a statement released Wednesday afternoon by Forest Preserves General Supt. Arnold Randall, who thanked Pope for his service even though he “intervened in the matter” highlighted by Inspector General Patrick Blanchard’s office.

”This incident does not align with the more than three decades that [Pope] has worked in law enforcement,” Randall was quoted as saying. “However, it is in direct opposition to our mission to ensure that our work is not influenced or directed by political interference.”

Pope was not named in the scathing report released Monday by the county inspector general’s office. But forest preserve officials say he helped dismiss the ticket that was issued to a “political associate” of the unnamed commissioner.

Pope could not immediately be reached for comment. He previously worked as a University of Chicago police officer and served as a bodyguard to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, according to a 2011 Better Government Association report published in the Chicago Sun-Times, before making his way up the forest preserve police ranks.

The report doesn’t specify where or when the $250 ticket was issued, but the associate allegedly asked the officer and an accompanying trainee, “Do you know who I am?”

But Blanchard said in a telephone interview the ticket was issued during the fall of 2018.

The associate then reached out to the commissioner about the ticket, who contacted a “high ranking [Forest Preserve Police] official” about voiding the citation. The commissioner said the officer who gave it out “displayed a poor attitude” and asked for the cop to be sent to his office for questioning, the report says.

The ticket was dismissed, and Pope allegedly sent the officer to the commissioner’s office to be “personally subjected to criticism.”

In an interview with the inspector general’s office, the commissioner acknowledged reaching out to the police brass and setting up the meeting to “challenge the issuance of the ticket.”

But the commissioner also claimed to want to “address problems between minority and law enforcement communities” and to go over the procedure for challenging the ticket — explanations that “strained credulity,” according to Blanchard, because the commissioner also acknowledged none of the “historical problems” of community-police relations were at play, and the ticket-challenging procedure was listed on the ticket.

Blanchard’s report laments the fact that a trainee officer “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.

“Additionally, these circumstances perpetuated a culture, if not a custom and practice, that political influence has its place in law enforcement activities,” the report says.

Blanchard recommended reinstating the parking ticket, and suggested the police department institute a policy that attempted political interference be reported through the chain of command. The report, issued a day before Pope’s resignation, had suggested “significant disciplinary action” for him and reprimands for other higher-ups who didn’t speak up.

Pope made $106,927 in 2017, county payroll records show. His tenure was most memorably marked by a video-recorded confrontation last summer showing one of his officers standing idly by while a drunken loudmouth hurled racial epithets at a woman wearing a T-shirt featuring the Puerto Rican flag. That officer quit before he could face any discipline, and a hate-crime trial for the man in the video is still pending.

In his statement, Randall, the forest preserve superintendent, asserted that “avoiding any undue favoritism is fundamental to our responsibility to provide management of the preserves that is professional and unbiased. We have worked hard to create a work culture that emphasizes transparency and accountability. That cannot be compromised.”

The county’s Board of Ethics will review Blanchard’s allegations and consider possible discipline for the commissioner.

The forest preserve district touted itself as “one of the first agencies to be found to be in substantial compliance of the Shakman Consent Decree” regarding patronage hiring. The agency has a full-time director of compliance, “and has clear procedures and regular trainings on these issues,” officials said.



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