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News Every Day |

No extremism in the Chicago police ranks? We need more convincing.

Chicago Police Supt. Larry Snelling in full uniform speaking into a microphone.

“I can tell you that we reached out to everybody,” Chicago Police Supt. Larry Snelling said of an investigation of police officers with ties to extremist groups.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Before Larry Snelling was officially named the city's top cop, he told Chicagoans they had to partner with him and rank-and-file officers to build up the trust that is crucial to solving and deterring crime.

"We can’t do this unless we do it together," the police superintendent said less than a year ago. "I can’t help you if I don’t listen to you."

So let's be clear to Snelling: Chicagoans don't want to be policed by anti-government extremists.

Six months ago, an investigation by Sun-Times reporter Tom Schuba, WBEZ reporter Dan Mihalopoulos and Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project found that some Chicago police officers appeared on leaked membership rosters for the far-right Oath Keepers, who played a key role in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Some cops also had serious misconduct complaints lodged against them.

Snelling made a promise of "thorough investigations” and "stringent" efforts to root out extremists and "remove those members from our ranks."

Thursday, Snelling had the department put out a succinct statement that said no disciplinary action would be taken against nine current officers whose names appeared on the Oath Keepers membership list three years ago.

Friday, Snelling, standing beside Mayor Brandon Johnson, defended his decision and said there was no cause for action against the cops after they were investigated completely, Schuba and Mihalopoulos reported.

No offense to Snelling, but we're looking forward to the review by City Hall’s independent inspector general, Deborah Witzburg.

Editorial

Editorial

The allegations against these officers were not "sustained," the Chicago Police Department said. But documents released Friday underscore the leniency the department extended to officers investigated for their links to far-right groups.

So once again, we're left wondering about those officers' alleged affiliation with the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Three Percenters or other far right-wing groups.

The Oath Keepers claim to bar racists but it is not unusual for members to engage in racist behavior and misconduct, as some of the nine officers in question have been accused of doing, according to the investigative series "Extremism in the Ranks."

As we have said before, Chicagoans, especially Black and Brown citizens, understandably recoil from the notion of partnering with officers who have been accused of bigotry or who write an email that says, "I have no desire to help inner city poor people." That is what Sgt. Michael Nowacki, who was listed as an Oath Keeper, told an Englewood community activist who made a request for charitable donations in 2007. Nowacki received a three-day suspension for the offensive email.

Minimal sound bites that shed very little light on why Nowacki and the eight other officers who turned up on Oath Keepers list evaded punishment aren't acceptable, especially when Witzburg has repeatedly criticized the department's internal investigations of officers accused of flirting with or having active memberships with far right-wing organizations.

Should Witzburg eventually call for re-opening any of the Bureau of Internal Affairs investigations of the nine officers, Snelling and others in the top brass must not stall. Otherwise, it will be clear that Snelling was just paying lip service when he told the City Council last fall that there will be no tolerance for officers "who are filled with bias or members of hate groups."

Changing the culture of the CPD and strengthening the relationship between officers and the community will drastically fail if right-wing extremism isn't rooted out.

In fact, any police department that ceases to take such matters seriously risks tarnishing the image of all officers across the country, according to a research paper that appeared in the Journal of Criminology, Criminal Justice, Law and Society in 2021.

"...the negative impact of law enforcement agencies employing, or even implicitly supporting far-right extremists, creates the risk of not only damaging their legitimacy, but also the legitimacy of other departments," the article states.

And if a story about hiring and/or failure to fire a far-right extremist in a police department is picked up by news outlets and amplified across social media, "it will likely also negatively impact other departments."

Snelling should know by now, news travels fast.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.

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