Mick Dumke had the good fortune to be on duty at the Sun-Times when reporters had to show up to pick up copies of two of the biggest city “data-dumps” in recent history.
First, there was the very conveniently-timed batch of audio recordings from 911 dispatch covering the pre- and post-shooting traffic on the night of Laquan McDonald’s shooting. That was on Christmas Eve.
Then, on New Year’s Eve, the City made available a trove of many thousands of redacted emails from and among various Mayoral staffers and other officials. Mick got to stand in line for that CD-ROM, too.
Apart from the already well-reported revelation that the emails described an extraordinary level of coordination between the Mayor’s Office, the IPRA, the State’s Attorney’s Office and others, Dumke noticed something else very interesting. It was where he was directed to go for the materials.
“I had been bothering the police department for weeks for copies of those audio recordings,” he explains. “And they waited quite a while to tell me they don’t have them. They could have told me that the first day I sent in the request, but they waited at least two weeks, maybe more than two weeks, sent me over to the Office of Emergency Management Communications.”
More waiting ensued. Then came word that the audio would be available only for a few hours, but not at the OEMC.
“I got my butt downtown on Christmas Eve,” he tells us, “And basically we were told you can come over to the Law Department and pick up a CD-ROM with this information, which was news to me because as I’ve just spent time telling our audience, I had asked for this information from the police department, asked OEMC for it. Both of them hemming and hawing ‘we have it, don’t have it, look to somebody else,’ and then it’s the Law Department that coughs it up.
This may seem like a minor issue, but to a veteran reporter, it’s something of a red flag.
“A similar kind of thing happened on New Year’s Eve with the email dump,” says Dumke. “This time we were told please come pick it up between 9 AM and 1 PM on New Year’s Eve. That’s your window. Our window to be transparent is 4 hours.”
Dumke’s concern is that FOIA requests for these events appear to have been coordinated through the Corporation Counsel’s office rather than the departments themselves.
“I think something within the emails that was very clear,” Dumke explains, “Is that what we all suspected all along about City Hall’s obsession, the Mayor, and we presume the Mayor because by the way, there weren’t emails from the Mayor. In all those 3,000 pages of emails that were released, the Mayor was referenced a few times. There were a few blacked out things that could have been the Mayor, but there weren’t any emails from the Mayor. But what we learned from those emails was that what we suspected about their obsession with the way the City’s and the Mayor’s image is presented in public that is very much true and alive.”
And despite the careful redacting, the mails still portray a City Hall scrambling to get control of the message. “They clearly weren’t prepared for the buildup into the crisis that remains,” Dumke tells us, “And that is reflected in those emails, where they are really just tripping over each other to try to figure out how possibly to keep up, let alone to get ahead of it.”
And while coordinating the various spokespeople for each of the affected departments may soon like just good media strategy, Dumke says when the issue is independent oversight over police personnel, it’s not quite that innocent.
“So they and the State’s Attorney who keep stressing over and over again how independent she is and she is conducting an investigation free of pressure and these sorts of things. So when you see evidence that they are having discussions about what to tell the media together I think that’s pretty damning.”
You can read a full transcript of our entire 55-minute discussion about police cameras, the State’s Attorney race, the move toward more Tasers at CPD, the need for money to perform effective police training and much more HERE: CN transcript Jan 7 2016
A few more quotes from Mick Dumke:
On police reaction to increased use of body cameras
What I’ve heard over and over again from cops I’ve talked with about this is yes, but we need to see and the public needs to see more examples of how it’s used other than charging somebody with murder for it. And you know a lot of officers, I think even officers who are really upset about what happened that night, a lot of them still kind of feel like well, what if I make a mistake, you have this on video and then I’m charged with murder next. I don’t think it’s going to go from here to here to here, but there are really I think a lot of very thoughtful police officers very concerned in this environment. The pendulum is shifting so far to the other side that things can be used against them. I hope that people increasingly as part of this very important conversation we’re having across the country about criminal justice, I hope people you know, really stop and think about what we ask police officers to deal with. We were just talking about a domestic situation, people who are mentally unstable, many of whom are actually dangerous or could be dangerous. We send police in to deal with all sorts of long festering social issues and say ‘well let’s send a cop in.’ By the time that happens we’re at the end of a long complicated difficult situation.
On police officers reacting to calls for more training
But one of them, Ken, said to me that very thing; he said, “Look, I would love more training. I would love it if we had better equipment.” He said, “You don’t realize it, but our equipment is crap.” Now you know, cops just like journalists and I assume other professions they love to bitch and complain about their circumstances, but he said, “Look, we would love better equipment. We would love more training. It’s going to cost money, are you willing to pay for that?” So that’s the first question.
The second thing is what kind of police force do we want? And that’s what I was getting at with sort of the broader philosophical question, you know, 20-plus years ago when the City started to implement community policing, which they never fully implemented by the way. But once they started community policing the caps program there was a pushback from officers who said ‘I didn’t come here to be a social worker.’ So when you’re talking about mental health training and stuff, well you know they aren’t trained to be social workers. So maybe what we’re talking about is a new kind of responding officer, or within the force you have all sorts of different divisions within the police force. You have specialized divisions who just work on burglaries. You have a marine unit. Maybe you have a mental health unit in every police district.
On the changing role of first responders in our society, including the evolution of fire departments into multi-service medical intervention operations
And you know if someone is having a heroin overdose they (administer) the antidote for that and so forth and so on. The point is all this is evolving for first responders, and so I think… I’m hopeful that police officers and the leadership of the police department will help lead us into this discussion and hopefully resolution or at least an ongoing update of what the police department should be, what police officers should be, what they should expect to be responding to. So we’re not just sending guys out who are trained to respond to force with force. If that’s what they’re trained to do and we send them into these other situations what do you think is going to happen?
On calls for an investigation into the Department of Law after revelations that some attorneys may have withheld evidence from the Court
Yeah, it’s clearly troubling that City lawyers aren’t following court rules. This comes down to court rules about when there’s a discovery process in a case one side asks for certain evidence, the other side is assuming there’s judicial approval. It’s required to produce that evidence and if you say that you are producing the evidence and you’re not, I mean that is obviously a major problem. Our justice system is built on an honest recounting of the facts.
Now, with the five lawyers cited, we had the one this week who in a case where the judge just came out and did a real smack-down and ordered a new trial and called out the lawyer by name. And then I think the Tribune has come with or some others have come up with these other cases. My question about that is that sounds like a lot. Zero is the ideal number, but how often does this happen in private practice? How often does it happen? I mean what is the context here? We’re shining a spotlight on this and all of us are looking at this with wide eyes, but is this something that happens? How many of these are mistakes? How many of these are deliberate? Is there evidence where it was deliberate and were they playing games? I think those are all important questions.
On the upcoming super-heated race for State’s Attorney between Anita Alvarez, Kim Foxx and Donna More
You have an incumbent in a very important and powerful position and you have two seemingly credible challengers. And so you know there’s been a lot of dissatisfaction with Anita Alvarez certainly over the last four years, but when the slating session was held by the Cook County Democratic Party last summer you know, despite a push by Toni Preckwinkle and others not to endorse Anita Alvarez, but that is almost just so everyone understands how the sausage is made politically, to not endorse an incumbent is almost unheard of. I mean we’ve endorsed people who have been under indictment.
So a living breathing active office-holder who also happens to be a Latina, a very powerful constituency, so it was a sign of trouble for the State’s Attorney when she did not get the endorsement, and so now to hear that Toni Preckwinkle is pushing for her former Chief of Staff to get the endorsement outright is definitely big political news, but I think as Natasha pointed out – she’s right on the money – I think this cuts both ways. The major criticism if you’re just talking politically about Kim Foxx is that she’s too close to Toni Preckwinkle and this office which we just took pains earlier on the show to discuss how that is supposed to be and should be independent, to have basically that be an aide or auxiliary potentially of the president’s offices is troubling to a lot of people.