Arena complaint alleges that officers used racial slurs
Chicago Alderman Mark Arena of the 45th Ward filed a complaint with the Civilian Office for Police Accountability (COPA) after several Chicago Police Department officers allegedly made racially charged slurs about a controversial affordable housing project at 5150 N. Northwest Highway.
On Feb. 1, Arena announced that he filed a complaint against several officers with the COPA office. He alleges that the officers engaged in conduct unbecoming of a badged officer and asked for COPA to determine the punishment. The local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 7, however, denounced Arena’s allegations.
“We will protect the rights of our officers in the courts, in the media, and in the political arena and through negotiations,” said FOP 2nd Vice President Martin Preib in an email to Chicago City Wire. “We are not going to see our members thrown under the bus anymore.”
Preib was quoted in a Feb. 1 press release announcing that the union will do everything in its power to protect its officers.
“Complaints by Leslie Perkins, director of communication and outreach for Arena, claimed the officers made 'racially charged' comments opposing the project,” Preib’s press release said. “The FOP believes these complaints are baseless and politically motivated. It further believes that, if pursued, complaints arising from Alderman Arena’s office violate the civil rights of the named CPD members.”
The comments in question were seen in an online debate among people who were criticizing the 5150 N. Northwest Highway project. For example, one person said, “I suspect the ghetto rats are not far off,” alluding to the affordable housing project.
Arena remains adamant that the officers are at fault for violating the police department's governing code of conduct.
“My job is to represent the totality of my population as it exists, which includes people who may be opposed to a development for whatever reason, but also includes people who are supportive of the development for their reason, and are coming to us saying this is intimidating,” Arena told the Chicago Tribune. "They feel like this is coercive."
The same coverage from the Tribune indicates that FOP has retained legal representation from attorney Timothy M. Grace of Gottreich, Grace, & Thompson. Upon Grace’s retention as legal counsel, his office sent a letter to Arena ordering him to withdraw his complaints or face a tumultuous lawsuit.
Grace writes that Arena’s “decision to threaten (the officers') job security and their reputations for expressing their opinions appears retaliatory and motivated as a means to stifle their opposition.”