Dear Chicago Police: Thanks for Nothing

I recently witnessed a crime. Because this crime was relatively serious, and because I might have mild paranoiac tendencies to begin with, I'm not going to go into any details here about the incident itself. What I'm going to share with you instead is my experience with the Chicago Police Department.

I would not say I am naive. I tend to trust that everyone's motivations are pure and that people, generally, have the best of intentions. So when, in our gritty urban environment, I hear neighbors, colleagues, friends, and the media complain about the Chicago Police, I frown, confident that the criticisms must be unfounded. And while I can't speak to the broadest (and most serious) criticisms, I can now speak to the CPD's approach to witnesses, and can only imagine their interactions with victims.

I have dialed 911 exactly twice in my life: When I was in a car accident on I-80 two summers ago, I called and was greeted with a helpful and disarmingly (and not unpleasantly) patronizing "911, what's your emergency?" as if the operator had been trained by my television. I was kept calm, given instructions, and help arrived quickly. When I dialed 911 the second time (after witnessing the aforementioned crime), I was greeted with a mumble, as if the operator were working the complaint hotline for a recalled stove. I understand how difficult his job must be; I am sure there is a good deal of managing inane calls from citizens whose neighbors won't turn the music down. But for those of us in actual SITUATIONS, a little professional courtesy might go a long way. As I narrated (in real time) the incident, the operator remained largely silent, occasionally interjecting to repeat a question he'd asked several times -- a question which I could not answer at that time. When the incident was over, I noted this to the operator and we ended our call.

I wish I could tell you I heard sirens or a knock on my door indicating help had arrived. But I heard neither (I later learned, NOT FROM THE POLICE, that the situation had been pursued). When the police called me back to confirm my call, that confirmation was the sole purpose of said call and the only additional interaction I had with the police. I was asked 4 very basic questions (my name, whether I'd made the call, whether I knew anyone involved, and whether I had myself been involved) and then -- I KID YOU NOT -- I was told "We're done here." And then a click.

Concerned for my own safety (and most secure when I have every piece of information possible), I have since tried to learn the outcome of my call, but to no avail. There have been shift changes, and delays in processing, and general bureaucratic humdrubbery standing in the way of my learning any bit of information that might make me feel more secure. The one detail I'll add is that this crime did take place in Hyde Park, and I'm certain I don't need to spell out how highly I value a sense of security in my own neighborhood.

So that's it, then. I hate to think the police have been less than ideally thorough, and I really hate to feel dismissed, but instead of feeling like I did my community a service by reporting a crime that could have taken place unnoticed, I feel like I made a mistake by even calling the police. Not only did they seem to care little about the crime itself, they seemed to care even less about my feeling safe in my community.

Am I off base here? Am I thinking too far back to middle-school D.A.R.E. programs and the officer who made me feel personally protected? Am I putting too much stock in the uniform? Does the police department have a responsibility to citizens to make them feel safe? A responsibility to witnesses to disclose outcomes? People, I am feeling jaded and I'm not certain it suits me.

Filed under: Hyde Park News

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  • I work in Hyde Park, and that is definitely worrisome. I do know that the U of C police also patrol the area, and they often have good reports on their crime database in addition to CPD's crime databases. I DO hope the report has been filed--meaning it will go on the crime map, and that means they have at least looked at it. I don't want to be all presumptuous, but if you haven't checked the two maps/reports out already, that might let you know that your call and the crime was acknowledged, even if it hasn't been resolved.

    http://gis.chicagopolice.org/

    http://www.uchicago.edu/php/safety/incidentReports.php

  • In reply to Holly:

    Thanks Holly -- as of last check, not posted. I appreciate that these tools exist, but they have yet to prove helpful in this situation.
    Appreciate your comment and am sorry to be a reminder of the things that can go awry even in our neighborhood.

  • Hi, how are you Dani? I have read your post from top to bottom....twice to make sure that I didn't miss anything. It appears as though your experience was never with the police at all. Your experience was with an OEMC "call taker"(who is not the police). Your call may have or may not have ever reached the "Chicago Police". They are dispatchers, not police. I only bring this point up so you don't lose total faith in the police, as "we"(the police) are still out here to help you. Even with your experience, there are better call takers out there who would have given you a better calling experience too. Just like going to a store and dealing with a rude clerk, not all clerks will give you that rude experience.

    I do ask that you continue to be the good citizen that you were when you called that incident in, and report anything in the future too.

    Good luck to you in the future. I signed up to this site, just so I could send you a reply. I'll be cancelling my account after today. I just wanted to reach you and let you know that not all experiences are the same. Please don't conclude that we're all bad or that we all give bad service based off of this service call, especially considering you never actually dealt with the police.

    Take care
    E

  • In reply to Eddd:

    Hi Eddd -- Thanks a lot for reading and taking the time to respond. I hope I don't give the impression that I think all police officers are dismissive -- that's not the case. I don't, however, feel the system is designed to be responsive to callers, witnesses, or, I strongly suspect, victims.
    To clarify, in all of my follow-up, it has been directly with the precinct, where I've continually gotten the run-around. Though I'd like to believe this is in some way designed to protect the innocent or otherwise serve the community, my hunch is that it's further evidence of a system that simply fails its citizens.
    I appreciate that there are representatives of the force, however, like you, who are working within the system to carry out the mission of the police department. For that (and, again, for your comment), you have my respect and gratitude.

  • Not sure whether that's comforting or not, given that the people taking our calls are the only real contact we have when we dial 911!

  • Expat in Chicago, how are you? In respond to your comment, that is something that we have no control over. That would be something to take up with the mayors office. Many corners are being cut to lower the expense of police services as of recent, unfortunately, callers, witnesses, and victims are going to see the affects of that. Holly, I agree about U of C police, they are great in/with their response, but this solution is only for the Hyde Park area. There are other areas in the city of Chicago that are far worse in crime, with far less police support.

    As for getting information from the district in which you stay, I guess it depends on what kind of information you are seeking. Many times people want to know things that we are not at liberty to speak on at those times. If you stay in Hyde Park, your station use to be the 21st District.....that district is now closed. So now, depending on where exactly you stay, the 1st or 3rd district will now offer your service.

    Thank you all for the support, and keep your eyes open out there! Again, don't feel discouraged from this, please call 911 so they can send us out if you see things, or even suspect that you see something happening. One more thing, you all always have the option of calling in and remaining an anonymous caller, but do call.

    E

  • Hi Dani! Like Eddd your post interested me so much I signed up to reply. Probably like Eddd I have lots of experience with the Police Department, and even some in Hyde Park (which as of last month was policed by officers from the 021st District, and now the 002nd at 51st Street as the old 021 is now closed). What likely is frustrating you is there is no easy way for a witness to get information regarding the disposition of the incident they witness. Were you a victim, the police would provide you with an "RD Number" (records division number which looks something like HV123456). You could then call the detective division and speak to the detective who is assigned your case in detail. District officers simply do not have the info-unless you get lucky and somehow track down one with direct knowledge. There is just so much crime volume that it's statistically unlikely to get a good answer by calling the station. So, for you the only thing to do would be to contact the victim, keep and eye out for the public crime reports online-or if it's something that really is bothering you, reach out to the communitty policing officers (who have more time than the officers you are probably reaching on the phone) at 002 (312-747-8394 and ask for community policing) and hopefully they can ease your mind! (ps-oemc are not police officers!)

  • In reply to Edub:

    Edub -- this is really valuable information. I appreciate it. Though I'm not convinced the system is functioning at a satisfactory level, it sounds like I have options I didn't know about. Thanks for the direction!

  • In reply to Dani Brzozowski:

    Hey Dani-sorry for the hurried response yesterday...was balancing defending the Police Department and taking care of a little one. :) There is not much as frustrating as dealing with a gigantic government bureaucracy. By and large the police Department is filled with wonderful people-and from first hand info I can say those policing Hyde Park included! One bad experience can really hurt the Department’s reputation, and that sometimes does affect community cooperation and trust so it’s very upsetting to hear stories like this. OEMC is also staffed with some wonderful people, and the fact that you talked to a less than caring call taker would probably upset the men and women there too. Navigating the process of getting information from the police can be very difficult-especially if you are not the person who actually makes the official report. If it is a crime investigation that is ongoing or has an upcoming court date, information may be restricted to the actual victim only. This is just so if someone is wanted or soon-to-be wanted they can’t call up and ask about how much info the police have on them. I wish I knew more about your incident, I might be able to provide you more help. I hope you never have to have an emergency type interaction with the police again, but if you do I think you’ll find a professional and competent police department. My wife, kid, parents and other family members all live in the City, and I sleep better because I know there are some great cops out there protecting them.

  • Edub, thanks for the correction and the assist. Dani, that is the 1st and 2nd districts, depending on where you stay.

  • First to Dani. I am so sorry you are feeling less than safe in your own home. This is not an enviable position to be in. I would like to be able to tell you that it will be okay, you have nothing to worry about, it was a one-time occurrence, etc... ad nauseum, however, I can't tell you that. You had a frightening experience made all the worse by the knowledge that you have a young child at home for whom you are responsible. You need to know that the CPD and it's agents will take any and all 911 calls seriously. The difficulty of the job and "inane calls from citizens whose neighbors won't turn the music down" are something these operators should be trained to deal with. There should be, if nothing else, a bit of human compassion being used when the very job of these dispatchers is to be the first line of communication between a caller and the CPD. I am so sorry you had to deal with what could have been a very dangerous and definitely scary situation.
    Secondly, to Eddd. Whether Dani's experience was with an actual member of the CPD seems highly irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that she was not dealt with in a professional or even polite manner. The person who answered the phone is, in fact, employed by the City of Chicago to represent the Chicago Police Department! The manner with which that employee answers the phone and relates to the caller has a direct impact on how the caller will respond in the event of another incident where calling 911 may be necessary. Being treated in a negative and condescending manner would make anybody think twice about reporting another crime. This cannot possibly be something the CPD strives to achieve!
    Finally, nobody should ever be made to feel like they are an inconvenience when calling 911. And nobody should ever feel that they cannot trust that if they are in a situation where 911 is their lifeline there won't be someone on the other end of that call that cares!

  • Mama, just because someone works for the city of Chicago, doesn't mean they are a representation of CPD. Those who answer your calls there represent OEMC. You can call 911 if you have wild animal in your house, they will send animal control, call 911 for a fire, they will send fire trucks, call because of building collapsing they will send the proper agency. They are a hub and a source of resources that is set up to connect your issue or emergency with the correct agency. All city services are not related.

  • But to everyone that is here, I'm not here to argue or debate services, just here to provide a word or two for Dani.

  • I read this blog a few days ago and was reminded of it last night. My daughter and I were at home in a back room in our normally quiet neighborhood, when we heard gunfire. I'm not talking about a couple of muffled, distance thump's either, I am talking about numerous, crisp, close, insistant POP's. So close as a matter of fact, that I told my daughter to get down and began rounds of the house. Room to room, I turned off the lights (I didnt want any gun toting madman to see movement) and carefully peeked out the windows. Nothing, there was nothing to be seen, or heard. My daughter wondered aloud if we should call the police but since there was really nothing helpful we could tell them, we didn't. Shortly after that, another burst of gunfire but no sirens. I told my daughter that didn't mean the police weren't out there creeping around in the dark. She went to bed, a room in the front of the house but almost immediately called to me saying there was someone in the yard with a flashlight. They were out there, creeping around in the dark. The street was lined with police cars and the yards were full of police officers.
    So Dani, that's what brought me back to your blog. There's a couple of things I want to say. First, I understand your initial fear, being witness to a crime is scary, no secret there. Second, I agree you should be able to easily get access to information from your local police regardless of the circumstances, who answers the call or who signs the paychecks. This is where the "but" comes....please do not let this taint your faith in the police. Many crimes and criminals go through the system, often without witness ever being contacted again, this doesnt necessarily mean the job isn't being taken care of. It's likely the crime you reported was taken more seriously than you were led to believe. Maybe the police were just creeping around in the dark.
    Lastly, you did the RIGHT THING! Never let anyone's actions, words, indifference, or attitude keep you from doing the right thing again. The police rely on citizens just like we rely on them, that relationship is the best chance we have at keeping the police the only ones creeping around in the dark.
    Lock your doors, stay brave and safe.

  • Dani-
    I'm going through the same dance with the police in Lakeview. My boyfriend was recently attacked - hit with a billy club, then again with the person's car..purposefully- and the police have done ABSOLUTELY nothing in the last 2 weeks aside from file the wrong report on the night of the crime, waste 5 hours of my time trying to get the correct report filed and then tell me (from the detective) "I've got 70-75 reports on my desk I'll get to it when I get to it" (after insinuating that my boyfriend somehow started or deserved the attack). I like to give people the benefit of the doubt just like you do-surely the police are our friends and there to help, right? Apparently not the case in Chicago. We're now just about 2 weeks out (it happened on St Paddy's Day) and I've talked to exactly 1 person that has anything to do with the investigation for a grand total of 6 minutes-ending with the aforementioned "I'll get to it" comment.

    Meanwhile, I'm losing time at work helping dear bf deal with doctors/work leave/police/getting bills situated, my boyfriend is still unable to work and has been seen at the hospital 2 additional times + doctor visits as a result of the head trauma he suffered. I got so fed up that I contacted the news and the alderman's office- the news actually gave me more information than anyone at this point, go figure.

    Here's to hoping that things start to change in this city- but they never will unless those of us in these types of situations make a bit of a stink, make it clear that we want to be taken seriously and that it's our right to feel protected by the police.

  • I've taken a few days to reply to these latest comments hoping I'd have some news -- that the police would have contacted me as a follow-up, that I would have seen the incident in an online report, something. The news is good and bad: the bad is that I haven't received any follow-up and am not certain any action was taken regarding this incident. I'm told (through the grapevine -- not, of course, by the precinct) that it can sometimes take up to two weeks for paperwork to be filed and, were a long delay the case, I'd receive a report in the mail, ready for my completion/review/signature. That hasn't happened.

    The good news is that, despite this apparent lack of response by the police, as time passes, I feel less scared, less anxious, and more normal. I hope this isn't a mistake, but as several commenters pointed out, I can't live my life in fear (a stance that would be especially difficult given my daughter's complete lack of trepidation!).

    To others who are facing/have faced similar situations: I wish I had advice to give you. I don't. We're all in the same boat: relying on a police force charged with the task of protecting this vast city, mostly playing defense against crimes more serious than these, trying to make a difference in neighborhoods more afflicted than ours.

    Though I'll be sure to note any serious updates to this situation, I don't expect any to occur, so, until then, stay safe and, as the police department told me: "We're done here."

  • I'm surprised no one has mentioned this (or if they have, I missed it) - you live in Hyde Park, call the Chicago police AFTER you call the U of C police (and only if necessary). The U of C police force is the second largest in the state of Illinois, second only to the CPD. And they have a vested interest in responding to calls in Hyde Park, because they need to ensure Hype Park is safe so parents want to send their kids to U of C, present faculty want to live in the neighborhood and sought after faculty want to move here. CPD does not have the same incentives.

    So, put the U of C police on speed dial. After the U of C police arrive, consider calling the CPD. And, you don't have to be affiliated with the U of C to call them. My wife and I had to call them once, we had 4 cars in front of our house in literally 2 minutes. They caught the individual trying to break into our building.

  • In reply to Steve:

    Thanks Steve. I know the UC police are a great option, and, in retrospect, I probably should have called them first. It's unfortunate, though, that we have to rely on a private police force when the city has one of its own.

  • Ayn Rand would be proud. ;)

  • fb_avatar

    I used to live in the Chicago area when I was in the U.S. Navy and my self-styled "serial-rapist stalker-for-life" said the area's law-enforcement were much to his liking to facilitate his stalking, kidnapping, and raping me with every pervert in the Chicago area with a buck. That's not even mentioning the many kids HE killed for sport and the ones I killed trying to escape him! So I wrote it down, online at http://sjoln8.wix.com/victims-of-bay-city or go on the web to: victims of bay city
    Hey, thanks for nothing Chicago... cops. I'll bet the families of the kids who died will want to thank you too! GET A JOB!

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