EDISON PARK — The president of the union that represents Chicago's police officers told the City Council Tuesday that morale among his officers is the lowest it has been in 35 years.
Dean Angelo Sr. blamed the white-hot criticism of officers by both the news media and the members of the Council in the wake of the release of a dashcam video showing a police officer fatally shoot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times for hurting officers' confidence and pride in their work.
But a speech by Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) — a former firefighter and police officer who hails from a family of law enforcement officers — has become a rallying cry for officers who say the focus on one police officer's criminal actions has been used to unfairly tar thousands of hard working officers.
A video of the rookie alderman's speech in the council chambers after Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologized for the shooting posted on his Facebook page went viral, drawing nearly 4,500 likes and more than 600 comments. It was shared more than 6,800 times.
"I was just speaking from the heart," Napolitano said in an interview with DNAinfo Chicago.
Alderman Napolitano's statement supporting CPD at yesterday's City Council meeting.Posted by Alderman Anthony Napolitano on Thursday, December 10, 2015
In his speech, Napolitano said criminals who are arrested will often complain, but officers should not be punished for doing their jobs.
"We can't start pointing the finger at our police officers and make it seem like they are the problem," Napolitano said in his speech, which drew polite applause.
While the vast number the comments on the video praise Napolitano for telling the other side of the story, one not often told by the news media, others said the police department is systemically troubled and its unfair treatment of African-Americans contributes to the violence that plagues Chicago.
While Napolitano acknowledged that the video of Officer Jason Van Dyke apparently shooting McDonald without cause is horrifying, he said the actions of one officer should not be allowed to define the department.
"Officers are suffering," Napolitano said. "These are men and women who always want to do the right thing. They are so hurt. They feel like everyone thinks they are like [Van Dyke] too."
Napolitano, whose father is a Chicago Police officer, urged his colleagues in his speech to do more than just "go on a ride along" to get a clearer sense of crime in Chicago.
"We're not in a normal city," Napolitano said. "We're in a war zone."
With nearly 3,000 people shot in 2015 and more than 400 people murdered, Chicago's neighborhoods need reforming — not just the police department, Napolitano said.
"This city is not as safe as people think it is," Napolitano said. "I've seen it first hand. I've smelled the gunsmoke."
Napolitano said he was concerned officers' low morale would translate into a higher crime rate as officers "stop being proactive" for fear of being subjected to criticism or complaints.
"That scares me, it really does," Napolitano said.
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