Chicago To Pay For Not Watching the Watchers

Five and a half years ago, when the beating of 24-year old bartender Karolina Obrycka by Chicago Police Officer Anthony Abbate first made the news, I argued that the beating itself wasn’t the real news story:

…It is rumored that some cops offered Obrycka a bribe if she would back off, and then threatened to plant drugs in the bar and in Obrycka’s car if she didn’t back off…

When Abbate attacked Obrycka, he wasn’t on duty, he wasn’t doing police work, and he wasn’t using police powers. He was just a drunk jerk that beat up a woman, and he happened to also be cop. With 13,000 cops in this city, there are always going to be a few troublemakers. To borrow a phrase from the Rodney King trials in California, it appears Abbate didn’t commit any of his crimes under color of authority. In a sane world, his barroom brawling has nothing to do with Chicago police in general.

But if Abbate’s buddies really are trying to bribe and intimidate witnesses, we’re no longer talking about one guy with a bad attitude. We’re talking about a criminal conspiracy within the police department[.]

Yesterday, that conspiracy cost the City of Chicago $850,000 when the federal jury hearing Karolina Obrycka’s lawsuit against the city of Chicago more-or-less agreed with me:

Chicago police adhere to a code of silence protecting fellow officers, a federal jury ruled Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by a female bartender whose videotaped beating by a drunken off-duty officer went viral online.

Officer Abbate was convicted long ago, and under normal circumstances, it would have ended there. But as Scott Greenfield explains, it’s the code of silence that cost the city so much:

Absent the machinations of police to conceal and silence the witnesses against him, the City of Chicago would have no liability for his conduct, it then being merely another vicious drunken cop beating a woman.

I realize that no cop wants to arrest a fellow officer for a crime, but I’m also sure that no one (outside of a few psychopathic cops) believes that police should be able to commit crimes with impunity.

The City of Chicago, and other police forces around the country, need to do something about this. It’s not a new or unexepected problem. “Who watches the watchers?” is one of the oldest questions about professional policing, and solving it is one of the fundamental duties of government.

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