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The Chicago Police Department is being criticized for two incidents of off-duty officers apparently brawling in bars. Both were caught on videotape. Superintendent Phil Kline is moving to fire one of the officers involved, He's been charged with a felony. and prosecutors are expected to announce any day whether they'll file charges against six officers in the second incident. From Chicago Public Radio, Ammad Omar reports.
AMMAD OMAR: Superintendent Kline says he's sickened.
Mr. PHIL KLINE (Superintendent, Chicago Police Department): The past two weeks have been disheartening and embarrassing for me personally and professionally.
OMAR: With his top brass standing silently behind him, the police chief faced questions Tuesday about the two incidents. Both involved off-duty cops, alcohol and, crucially, videotape. In one case from February, security video allegedly shows Officer Anthony Abbate pummeling a female bartender. The video of the woman being pushed to the ground, kicked and punched in the head has been shown countless times on TV. And in a little over a week, it's received over 300,000 hits YouTube.
Abbate is charged with battering and faces up to five years in prison. He and his lawyer couldn't be reached for comment. Mark Donohue, head of the Chicago police union, calls the video despicable, but he says news coverage has been overblown.
Mr. MARK DONOHUE (President, Fraternal Order of Police, Chicago): The media has a right to report. But I think once it gets to a point where there's a saturation level of what's being fed by the media, then I think there's harm being done.
OMAR: And Donohue says the actions of a few officers shouldn't tarnish the image of the entire department.
Mr. DONOHUE: The Chicago Police Department is the greatest police department in the world.
OMAR: The Abbate story came to light earlier this month. Days later, allegations surfaced that six off-duty officers attacked a group of four men at another Chicago bar. The video of that fight hasn't been released to the public, but Kline says it's clear from the tape that on-duty officers responding to the scene were sent away by the off-duty police involved in a fight. He's since taken the six officers off the street.
Mr. KLINE: If you try and shield officers that are accused of misconduct, then you're going to have to suffer the consequences.
OMAR: Kline also announced a plan allowing the department to strip officers of police power without waiting for formal charges, but critics like University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman say that's not enough.
Professor CRAIG FUTTERMAN (Law, University of Chicago): Unfortunately, the superintendent is engaged in scandal management, not systemic reform.
OMAR: Futterman says little was done until the allegations became public.
Mr. FUTTERMAN: The department had the first video for three months, and the department also had the video of Abbate's savage beating of the female bartender, and so the real problem is that the Chicago Police Department's entire disciplinary and supervisory system is broken.
OMAR: Things got even worse on Tuesday when Abate had a court hearing. Squad cars blocked parking lots, TV vans were ticketed, and officers shielded Abbate from photographers. Superintendent Kline says the commanding officer there misused police resources.
Mr. KLINE: I thought it was wrong. The captain displayed a terrible lack of judgment and leadership, and I'm moving to demote the captain.
OMAR: A police spokeswoman told the Chicago Sun-Times this morning that comment wasn't meant to be taken seriously.
For NPR News, I'm Ammad Omar in Chicago.
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