Is This Crazy or What?

Some were rejected from suburban police departments.

Others sold cocaine and smoked pot.

A few were thieves. Others are related to crooks. One was even a gang member.

They’re among dozens of people restored to the Chicago Police Department’s hiring list after they were found unfit to become cops.

The Chicago Sun-Times explored a little-known appeals process for police applicants blackballed because of problems in their backgrounds.

Of 221 who appealed, 79 people were returned to the hiring list by the city’s Human Resources Board between 2005 and 2007, records show.

One-hundred twenty-eight were kept off the hiring list and another 14 withdrew their appeals.

Many of those returned to the hiring list are related to current or retired cops who spoke on their behalf. Three times, aldermen successfully went to bat for rejected applicants.

The appeals process was originally designed to prevent racial bias in hiring, but none of the appeals reviewed by the Sun-Times alleged discrimination.

Former Police Supt. Phil Cline, who retired last year, fought unsuccessfully to remove the Human Resources Board from police hiring decisions.

“I remember I had people that we said we did not want to hire — and they [the Human Resources Board] told us to put them on the list and hire them. Some of those officers did not do well at all,” said retired Chicago Police Cmdr. Brad Woods, who ran the department’s personnel division under Cline and former Supt. Terry Hillard.

Woods said the department tried to block the hiring of officers with gang associations or minor crimes like petty theft or drug possession in their backgrounds — only to be overruled by the Human Resources Board.

“If you have a tendency to steal or commit a theft, there is a chance you will do that again. You are not honest. . . . They might be fine to work at Home Depot, but they should not have a job carrying a gun and being exposed to all the opportunities [for misconduct] on the street,” Woods said.

Woods said he does not think the Human Resources Board has followed a consistent set of rules.

“They did not have any real hard, documentable evidence of what makes someone hirable or not,” he said, pointing out that he and former Chicago Police general counsel Sheri Mecklenburg met with the Human Resources Board in 2007 to discuss their misgivings about the appeals process.

“If you are rejected by another police department, we shouldn’t hire you,” Woods said. “There are people that got on [the Chicago Police Department] that I question.”

The Human Resources Board, made up of three members appointed by Mayor Daley, acknowledged there is no legal reason for it to hear appeals from police applicants.

“There currently is no legal requirement that CPD afford disqualified applicants a hearing before the HR Board,” the board wrote in a response to written questions from the Sun-Times. “However, CPD has opted to continue the process. . . . It was determined that the HR Board had experience in such matters and would therefore be the best place to conduct such hearings.”

The current police superintendent, Jody Weis, said he is reviewing the matter.

The Sun-Times wanted to know if anyone who successfully appealed to get on the Police Department’s hiring list was later arrested for a crime.

But when the newspaper provided the board with the names of officers arrested in recent years, a Human Resources Department spokeswoman said the board could not search its application files for the names.

“We do not track past cases,” the board added in a written response.

Of the 79 people who successfully appealed their rejections from the Chicago Police Department:

– Eighteen were former drug users. A woman said she was a cocaine dealer at age 12. Others gave seemingly far-fetched excuses: One man, whose father is a Chicago Police sergeant, said he was in Mexico and smoked a cigarette but stopped when he realized it was pot. A woman said she only smoked pot in Amsterdam, where it’s legal.

– Five, including a former Calumet Park cop, were arrested on domestic battery charges. One of them admitted hitting his daughter with a watch during a spanking and was accused of abusing a child in the Cook County juvenile detention center. Another man admitted striking his mother.

– Four were arrested for battery, including a man who slashed someone with a knife in a bar fight, a man who pushed a teacher down a stairwell as a youngster, a bar brawler and a Cook County Jail guard accused of beating an inmate. He kept his jail job after criminal charges were dropped.

– Six were in the military and ran into disciplinary problems, including a man who admitted he was diagnosed with a personality defect in the Navy, a man with a “troubling history” in the Navy that previously barred him from the Chicago Police Department, a woman who failed to show up for National Guard duty and a man who was absent without leave.

– Four were rejects from other police departments, including a woman forced to resign from a Michigan department, a man who failed a Milwaukee Police Department background check, a man who failed an Elmhurst police polygraph and a man who failed a Phoenix Police Department polygraph.

– Three were tied to gangs in the past, including a Cook County correctional officer who said he was a former Two-Sixer and failed to disclose a disorderly conduct arrest.

– Two were fired from jobs, including a Cook County sheriff’s deputy fired from two security jobs.

– Two were relatives of crooks, including a woman whose husband is a convicted murderer and member of the Vice Lords street gang.

– Others were involved in theft, reckless driving, turnstile jumping and underage drinking.

– Three were endorsed by aldermen despite prior problems with the law. Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) backed a woman arrested for impeding a shooting investigation; Ald. Helen Shiller (46th) vouched for a man who threatened to shoot someone, and Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) supported a man who sold drugs in the late 1990s.

Preckwinkle said she was unaware of the Human Resources Board’s role in police hirings until she was approached by a pastor who asked her to speak on behalf of a rejected applicant. She and the pastor met with the applicant. “He was honest about his earlier mistakes,” she said. “I felt he would be a good police officer.”

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