Public Watchdog.org

Few Answers Raise Even More Questions About Hinkley Beating

08.12.14

It took three weeks for the Park Ridge Police Department to finally report to the mayor and the City Council on the July 12 Hinkley Park incident in which a middle-aged Park Ridge man was beaten by three teenagers while a crowd cheered them on.

Unfortunately, Police Chief Frank Kaminski’s monolog at last Monday (08.04.14) night’s Council meeting was more noteworthy for what it didn’t say than what it did. And much of what it did say seemed like just another dose of the buck-passing that we previously criticized in our posts of 07.25.14 and 07.31.14.

You can judge for yourself by watching the meeting video, from 30:50 to 1:06:15, but to us Chief K’s “chronology” of the events leading up to the beating sounded like a mid-summer’s night snow job.

He started by confirming that two patrol cars (of the five on patrol throughout the City that night) responded to a “fireworks complaint” at Hinkley at exactly 7:58 p.m. There the officers found between 30 and 40 teens just “hanging out.” Thirty-five minutes later, at exactly 8:33 p.m., three patrol cars and a supervising sergeant responded to a “crowds gathering” complaint and found around 75 teens “hanging out.” Chief K claimed that in each instance the police officers “checked the area” before leaving the park to handle “other calls.”

That raises some interesting questions. 

  • If the exact time of the officers’ arrival was so important, why wasn’t the time of their departures also important? Could it be that those departure times might show that the responding officers who “checked the area” for fireworks, alcohol, drugs, etc. really weren’t all that thorough in performing that task?

 

  • Why didn’t the chief identify the time(s) and location(s) of those “other calls” the ROs supposedly had to run off to instead of staying at Hinkley and providing the kind of “police presence” central to the “community policing” the department claims to be practicing – especially on the second call, when the number of teens had inexplicably grown from 30-40 to around 75 in just 35 minutes?

 

  • Why didn’t the chief talk about the reported police dispersal of more than 50 teens from the Library grounds between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m. – the ones who supposedly migrated en masse the two blocks to Hinkley and further swelled those ranks?

 

  • Why didn’t the chief provide the Council with an actual “report” containing that kind of information, instead of passing around a sheet of ideas that he said came out of his “Chief’s Roundtable” meeting on July 29?

Not surprisingly, none of the ideas coming out of the roundtable point to any real improvement in the way the police handle wayward youths. Maybe that’s because, as Chief K has constantly reminded us since the beating video went viral, this wasn’t a policing problem but a “community problem.” Hence, the “solutions” focused on socio-political placebos like a “City wide campaign-Making Good Choices” (a successor to the less-than-impressive “Caught Being Good” campaign?), “Fund Youth Drop-In Center” (that the taxpayers wouldn’t support with direct donations after the City stopped giving it handouts), “Message from Community Leaders” to parents, “Parent sponsored events for weekends,” and “Youth outreach workers in the Parks and Community to engage young people.”

Our favorite, however, was: “Reinstate [Police Chief’s] Task Force to focus on this.” Anyone who followed the activities of the last Police Chief’s Task Force already knows what any new task force’s solution to the Hinkley problem would be: construction of another ugly building and adding a sally port to the current cop shop.

But we digress.

Sadly, most of the elected officials around The Horseshoe either weren’t interested or weren’t up to the challenge of eliciting any of the information Chief K failed to provide.

City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton – to whom Chief K allegedly reports – sat Sphinx-like during the chief’s monolog, which is the way Hamilton acts virtually every time a police or fire matter is on the agenda. One would think both the police and fire departments were autonomous, self-managing entities over which Hamilton has no authority, and doesn’t want any.

Public Safety chair Ald. Nick Milissis, an attorney, seemed intent on rubber-stamping everything Chief K said, going so far as to invoke the police department’s prior problems with “aggressive” policing – which sounded like an obtuse reference to the incident a few years ago when a youth already in custody in the back of a squad car was allegedly punched in the face one or more times by an officer, resulting in a federal lawsuit that was settled for $185,000.

Sorry, alderman, but we believe you’re better than a rubber-stamp and shill for such apples-to-watermelon comparisons.  Or you should be.

Even Mayor Dave Schmidt, also an attorney, seemed to duck into the nearest safe harbor with his: “I’ve always felt that elected officials should be very cautious about second guessing their public safety personnel about how they do their jobs and the decisions they make.” Sorry, Mr. Mayor, but simply asking tough questions is NOT “second guessing.”

Schmidt redeemed himself somewhat, however, with his final observation that the rapid growth in the size of the crowd was “such an unusual situation that it would have made sense to leave [at least one police officer] behind” to keep an eye on the situation for the couple of hours Hinkley was scheduled to remain open.

But by the time Schmidt made that observation Chief K had already off-loaded any accountability for his department’s pre-incident performance.

With flourishes of political rhetoric worthy of Marc Antony in Act 3, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” Chief K praised the Park Ridge Park District with faint damns. While claiming not to be placing blame, he complained about Hinkley’s police-ability because of the different operating hours of its various activity areas. He bemoaned Park District rules for not having been updated since 1997. He cited the Park District’s non-deployment of its private security “monitors”(or “rent-a-cops,” as Ald. Joe Sweeney referred to them) to Hinkley that evening. And he even took a backhanded swipe at park Board president Mel Thillens, noting that his police officers’ hands were tied because only the board president could legally authorize a park closing.

He also deftly created, and immediately demolished, the straw-man suggestion that the assembled teens could have been charged with “mob action.” That was an especially nifty maneuver, given how it effectively diverted attention from what is generally considered the most police-friendly “tool” for dealing with crowds of any type: a “disorderly conduct” charge, the provisions most relevant to this situation appearing in Section 14-5-2 (E), (F) and (I) of the City’s Municipal Code.

And once he had foisted enough non-blame on the Park District and the lack of “tools” in his law-enforcement “toolbox,” he conflated both the weather and Taste of Park Ridge into a back-up excuse: the need to “evacuate” the Taste around 9:30 that night due to an incoming storm – as if a Katrina were on its way and he was not about to let himself become the butt of any “Chiefski, you’re doing a heck of a job” jokes.

All things considered, it was a political tour de force by a master politician who – aided by the talismanic power of his badge – totally overmatched the faux-politicians around The Horseshoe who are charged with holding him and his department accountable to the taxpayers for the public safety and order of Park Ridge. 

For a guy who claims to be short on tools, Chief K showed himself to be quite a craftsman. 

And pretty darn crafty.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Executive Office Plaza Variance Just A Matter Of Greed?

10.11.07

This Monday, October 15, the City Council is expected to vote on whether to give a variance to a group led by Norwood Builders so that it can build 168 units – instead of the 160 units that our newly-revised zoning code permits – on the property known as Executive Office Plaza (EOP), across Northwest Hwy from St. Paul of the Cross.

From what has been said and written so far, the argument for 8 extra units seems to break down into three main points: Park Ridge needs to “evolve” by building more condos; Park Ridge is in “dire need” of the kind of “senior housing” that Norwood is offering; and we need to become friendlier to developers who are “investing” in Park Ridge.

Where does it say that the “evolution” of our community requires building boxes of condos? But if more condo-villes are, indeed, Park Ridge’s future, then we better look at one of the likely consequences of adding hundreds of condos (counting the PRC development) to the Uptown area: Secondary streets like Washington, Western, Belle Plaine, Crescent and Elm “evolving” into heavily-trafficked thoroughfares, as motorists look to avoid the increasingly congested Six-Corners area. Why isn’t anybody talking about that?.

And why is it that we never heard about the great demand for this particular form of “senior housing” – with units only slightly different from the regular units (“senior housing lite?”) – until Norwood suddenly needed an excuse for a zoning variance?  Other than Norwood cheerleader Herb Zuegel and a handful of his friends, how many times in the past decade have citizens appeared at City Hall or written letters to the newspapers demanding more senior housing of any type? And if there truly is so much demand for this kind of senior housing, why is Norwood building only 50 such units?

As for embracing developers who are allegedly “investing” in our community, let’s call a spade a spade. These outsiders are basically carpetbaggers who are “investing” in Park Ridge for only as long as it takes them to get their condos built and sold. Their long-term commitment to our community is virtually zero, unlike resident Guido Neri – who was willing and able to build his residential development in the same neighborhood as EOP, and within the new zoning code’s density limits.

Why is it, then, that four of the City Council’s aldermen are so eager to give Norwood 8 extra units, especially when so many of EOP’s neighbors oppose it?  And why is it that some folks who have lived in Park Ridge for quite awhile are suddenly so dissatisfied with the historically single-family home character of our community that they are lobbying so hard for Norwood to get those extra 8 units?

As 1st Ward Ald. Dave Schmidt so accurately pointed out, Norwood doesn’t need these 8 extra units to go forward with this project and still make a good profit.  So if it’s not a question of need, is it just a question of greed?

Robert J. Trizna

The Circle Remains Unbroken

09.09.07

A few weeks before moving to Park Ridge from Chicago in 1988, I drove around after a storm and found extension cords running across streets between houses, carrying electric power from the side of the street that had it to the side that didn’t.  I also saw piles of sodden carpeting and furniture, along with other soaked belongings, heaped on the curbs.

Nineteen years later, the circle remains unbroken: We in Park Ridge still lack dependable power and a sewer system that can be counted on to keep our basements dry. And nobody seems to be doing what it takes to make it better.

Over the years Park Ridge residents have made thousands of calls and complaints to ComEd, to no effect.  Many of us have simply accepted the problem, even as our electric bills have skyrocketed.  Others have purchased their own generators, as if they lived in some third-world country.  But maybe this most recent outage – which in some parts of town lasted as much as four days – will finally get us up off our duffs and shouting: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Isn’t it time our city government demanded a meaningful sit down with ComEd executives to determine exactly what are the specific problems with our portion of the power grid, and what must be done to fix them?  The same goes for the flooding, which may be improvable by the installation of more relief sewers but which still needs a solid commitment from the City.  Either way, a responsible and competent city government must take the lead in getting us some definitive answers – and then acting on them.  

We also need to start thinking about the substantially greater demands all the new “development” is placing on our already strained and fragile power grid and sewer systems.  Every old house wired according to code that is replaced with a larger one drawing two or three times more power adds to that strain.  And what kind of potential for future havoc is being created by all the electricity and sewer demands of those new condo and townhouse units that we’re adding like there’s no tomorrow?  

The “perfect storm” explanation that I’ve been hearing from the City and ComEd for why we lost power and flooded a couple of weekends ago might be fine if this was a once-a-decade event.  But in the week leading up to that “perfect storm,” my house (and many others in our neighborhood) lost power on a least three other separate occasions: August 17, 19 and 21. That might be considered okay for a banana republic, but it’s unacceptable for a city such as ours.

Solving problems like these may not be as easy and fun as a groundbreaking for a new building or a ribbon-cutting for a new business, but it’s every bit as much of what government is supposed to do for us.  Is there anybody in City Hall that’s willing to step up to the challenge and get ‘er done?