by Libby Hellmann
Chicago has been front and center in crime doings over the past couple of weeks. First there was the young man arrested for planning to bomb a Rockford shopping mall. Then there was the man who killed three people at an intellectual property law firm over a portable toilet. But the crime that captured my interest has to do with the latest bad cop scandal, called Operation Broken Oath.
For those not in Chicagoland, several months ago 4 Special Ops cops were accused of home invasions, armed violence, and burglary, mostly in the form of shaking down suspected drug dealers. Their crimes were so pervasive that over a dozen OTHER Chicago cops – in what has to be one of the biggest cases of breaking the blue code of silence – decided to rat on their colleagues. Then two weeks ago two more cops were charged. One of them, Margaret Hopkins, 32, a 7-year CPD veteran, was ordered held on $750,000 bail.
Excuse me? Did someone say “Margaret?” A woman? Alas, yes. There she was in the court sketches with long hair, charged with home invasion and official misconduct. If convicted, she faces a sentence of up to 30 years.
Admittedly, men don’t have corner on corruption and crime. Neither do police officers. But something about the fact that a woman was involved made me sad. Maybe I’m being a reverse-sexist here, but I can’t help feeling that the struggle to succeed in a male dominated environment meant that a woman had to be more competent than the men. Extra good. As in being held to a higher standard of accountability.
Most of the women I asked about this with didn’t agree. In fact, their comments were pretty hard-nosed, along the lines of:
-- “Only one in seven was a woman?”
-- “It’s about time we got equal plunder…”
-- “Finally, a woman gets in on the action…”
I understand the cop culture requires you to “go along to get along.” I also realize that cops risk their lives every day. One of the things that makes it easier to do that is the knowledge that another cop is covering your back. If – for any reason – that back-up is just a tad slow in coming, a cop is exposed and vulnerable. Not a good place to be. Is that what happened here? Did Officer Hopkins feel she had no choice but to go along in order to survive?
I asked a former female Chicago cop about that. Basically, she agreed. Within a unit, she said, you know after a month who’s dirty and who’s not. You know who you want to show up on a job and who you don't. Let’s say you’re on the West side and you see your fellow cops, including your boss, filling the trunks of their cars with meat. What do you do? Everyone suffers under tyranny of the phone call – it only takes one call to get transferred if you piss someone off. So you don’t say anything. Maybe you even take a leg of lamb.
In fact, she went on, if a woman wants a promotion, there’s often a quid pro quo. It might be sexual favors, looking the other way, or other repercussions that could be worse than transfers. Commanders in some units have been known to pressure women.. because they are women. They expect women to continue to prove themselves and use that obligation to play them.
She also brought up another interesting point: that some women cops might use their gender as leverage. Women cops are less likely to be caught , she argues, because they’re not in the spotlight. She talked about checking bar licenses on the West side. When a cop walks in, the first thing a bar owner might do is shake the cop’s hand. Inside would be a $100 bill. However if a female cop goes in with a male cop, the $100 would invariably go to him; the assumption being that female cops would be shocked by the offer of a bribe. That feeds into a sense of reverse entitlement, she says. Women cops start to do the same things the men are doing, but figure no one will notice them and they won’t take the fall.
It gets complicated, doesn’t it? And unless Officer Hopkins writes a book or sits down for an interview, both of which are probably unlikely, we’ll never really know what motivated her.
What do you think? Is corrupt corrupt no matter who does it? Or is it different for female cops?