Arresting Tales

Richard Fiorito and the downside of DUI enforcement

I'll admit that when it comes to news of an arrest, 99% of the time I refer to the defendant as if he'd already been found guilty, using terms like "offender" and "bad guy".  Every once in a while I put up some lame disclaimer as a nod to the presumption of innocence.  What do I think?  As my dad said years ago, shortly before being excused from jury duty: "I don't think the police arrest people if they're not guilty."

I don't hold that same presumption of wrongdoing when it comes to news of a lawsuit, especially a lawsuit against a police officer.  I've written before about frivolous suits, and most of the time my first instinct when hearing that a cop is getting sued is to wonder what bottom-feeder is looking to get paid this time.
Having said all that, the news that 21 people have filed federal civil rights lawsuits against Chicago Police Officer Richard Fiorito for false arrest does not look good for the officer, or the Chicago Police Department.  Even worse, a recently released squad car video purports to show discrepancies between how Officer Fiorito described an arrest in his report, and how the incident actually occurred.  On top of all the unlawful arrest allegations, there's also the claim that Officer Fiorito systematically targeted members of the LGBT community, subjecting them to anti-gay slurs as he arrested them.

Man, I hate stories like this.  On the one hand, I'm suspicious of the manner in which the plaintiff's attorneys are publicizing this, especially seeing that prolific cop-litigator Brendan Shiller (son of Alderman Helen Shiller) is involved.  I would normally dismiss a publicity blitz like this as an effort to scare the city into making a fat cash settlement.

This case seems different.  ABC7 Chicago reports that criminal charges are expected soon.  And the allegations are coming from so many individuals that it's tough to dismiss the suit as one or two vengeful drunks trying to get paid.

Another thing--this is the third time in less than 2 years that a highly-recognized DUI enforcement specialist has been in the news for allegedly making false DUI arrests.  Chicago Police Officer John Haleas was sued in 2007 and disciplined by his department.  Over 50 DUI cases were dismissed as a result.  In 2008 he was charged with multiple counts of perjury and official misconduct, and his case is still pending.

In early 2009 Officer Joe D. Parker was sued, and then placed on desk duty while an internal investigation took place.  Parker retired from the Chicago Police Department in July 2009 and the federal lawsuits against him are still pending.  All of these officers were recognized by either Mothers Against Drunk Driving or the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, and they made hundreds of DUI arrests per year.

To put that 200-300 DUI arrests per year in perspective, an officer works between 220-250 days per year on average.  Most officers in my department, working a permanent midnight shift, book anywhere from 20-40 drunks per year while handling other patrol duties.  You can see what kind of job your local police are doing here.

Politicians and police administrators love DUI enforcement, and so does the public--at least until they get pulled over themselves.  Many departments measure the productivity of their officers, especially those working midnight shifts, by the number of DUI arrests they make and the number of traffic citations they issue. 

Most cops I know view DUI enforcement as, at best, a necessary part of the job. At worst it's a pointless pain in the ass.  A DUI arrest takes 2-4 hours depending on the circumstances.  Arresting a drunk driver can be fun (especially at Halloween--there's nothing so hilarious as a drunk in costume) but more often it's just irritating and time consuming. Then there are the endless court appearances, which are especially draining if you work midnights.  All so you can get beat up on the stand by some attorney making $3-10,000 per drunk.  After a few years it starts to look like the ultimate purpose of all that DUI enforcement is to provide job security for defense lawyers.

Every department has at least one guy, though, who just seems to really dig traffic and DUI enforcement.  Those officers are generally loved by their bosses, and regarded a little warily by their coworkers.  I've heard the term "road nazi" used more than once to describe officers who are seen as overly zealous in their pursuit of traffic citations. 

Maybe it's a good thing that drunks are now less likely to get a ride home from a cop, or be told to lock up their car and pick up their keys in the morning.  Certainly it's a good thing that drunk driving is now widely viewed as a crime.  Advocacy groups like MADD and AAIM have raised public awareness. Our roads are safer: according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were fewer traffic fatalities in 2008 than in any year since 1961. 

Still, I have to say that there is something about all of this "public awareness" and enforcement that makes me uncomfortable.  Is there something about the public push for more DUI enforcement, when carried to its most prolific extreme, that ultimately leads to zealotry and falsifying reports? 



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Jim said:

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Every department has at least one guy, though, who just seems to really dig traffic and DUI enforcement. Those officers are generally loved by their bosses, and regarded a little warily by their coworkers.

Yes, those kind of arrests generate cash and numbers, so I can see why.

That seems like a lot of arrests. I've got to wonder how that compares to other officers who work in the 23rd and 19th precincts (which cover Lakeview). I bet they should be averaging more than 20-40 DUIs a year. Wrigley attracts a lot of suburbanites. (Yeah, I know, people who live in the city can drunk drive, too.) So, I imagine, does Boystown. They will, almost invariably, drive in. Going to the bar will always, and going to Wrigley will usually, involve alcohol consumption. The blood alcohol limit while operating a vehicle is a little short of what a lot of people consider a good time. It makes sense to me that drunk driving would be a bigger problem in Lakeview than it would be elsewhere.

I have no real sympathy if her perjured himself. Also, the allegations of anti-gay slurs are troubling, if substantiated.

Still, something troubles me about the suit: Is the officer pulling over drunks because he is homophobic or because he is trying to get OT? Shiller is alleging both. He wouldn't be the first plaintiff's attorney to throw claims up against the wall and see what sticks.

RegularGuy said:

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Local law enforcement has morphed into another form of revenue generation for towns and villages. They can't raise property taxes because of the tax cap, so they turn to 'fines and fees' as taxation alternatives. That's why we have red light cameras. That's why every village of any size has incorporated the Illinois Motor Vehicle Act into it's local ordinances. That way, when cops write a ticket, it's against a local ordinance, not a state law, and the municipality doesn't have to share the fine with the State.

In a way, it's kind of a throwback to feudalism - the feudal lords sent out their armed tax collectors to take whatever they could from the citizenry.

All we need now is a modern-day Robin Hood to steal it all back for us.

Joe the Cop said:


Don't get me started on red light cameras. What a scam. It's to the credit of the town I work for that we won't install them. Schaumburg had one installed on an experimental basis, and then decided against putting in any more, not wanting to discourage potential shoppers from visiting. I think red light cameras generate about $150 million for Chicago, though. Another source of revenue for municipalities is overweight truck fines.

DUI's and traffic tickets, contrary to popular belief, are not big money makers for a city, even when the city incorporates the IVC into its local ordinances. DUI's are, however, a huge money maker for defense attorneys.

Griff said:

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Yes but you do get 20% of the base fine for every one you write.

Creepy said:

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You think that's bad, how's this for protecting and servicing, I mean serving:

Griff said:

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False DUI charges? Been there, done that. it was back in '82 when I was a student at WIU. I left the library about eleven one Wednesday night and stopped at a pizzeria right up the street for a couple slices of deep dish and a beer. When I got back on my '68 Triumph Bonneville, I didn't notice the black and white sitting across the highway in the park entrance.

They didn't even waste time with the stupid human tricks, they just cuffed me and headed for the station. I'd had two slices of Pizza and 2 glasses of draft beer. they knew they were in trouble when a local officer who was a friend of mine stepped into the squad room and saw me sitting there. The cops were rookies I guess because he laughed at them and said "Yeah, good luck Rooks!" then left. Well the "Rooks" were nervous all right, they pulled out a white oval bottle with a long black taper tipped cap which was marked C2H5OH. the squirted it into this funny looking offset nozzle style clear plastic plug, and then inserted the plug into the tube for the breathalyzer. Needless to say when I blew into the thing the machine said I was dead, I mean, really .685!?!

(Interesting footnote, the court document that had the police report attached strangely had the breathalyzer reading blacked out with a marker)

Well now they were REALLY in trouble, so they threw me into the county jail and told the jailers not to let me contact ANYONE! I sat there for 45 days and NO ONE, not my friends, not my family had so much as a CLUE as to my whereabouts. The Asst States Attorney (a little rat faced weasel named Poncin) offered to let me go if I'd just plead guilty. I kept refusing and they kept me locked up. I finally realized that as long as no one knew where I was they could keep me there indefinitely, and that's when I cracked. They won, and I walked for 3 years, from 1984 to 1987.

Moral of the story, this goes on more than people realize, and in some places like in Texas, females are at even greater risk because they are often sexually abused and assaulted by the very law enforcement people who entrapped them in the first place. My advice, just don't be out late at night if you can avoid it. If you must be out, don't be alone. Because it doesn't matter if you are drinking or not, if they want you they've GOT you. And there is NOTHING that will save you.

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