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Chicago Police Department cracks down on sick leave abuse

Jody Weis

Jody Weis

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Updated: November 9, 2011 11:46AM

One Chicago Police officer went shopping at a suburban mall.

Another grabbed some food at a restaurant.

And a third officer took a trip to the Caribbean.

That’s what the Chicago Police Department says. And the problem is the officers were all on sick leave. And they were required to stay home to recuperate unless they called a supervisor first to say where they were going.

Police investigators conducted surveillance and documented them leaving their homes. But none of them contacted their supervisors beforehand, the department says.

Those cases are among about 1,800 that have been investigated by the department’s Medical Integrity Unit, which was formed in 2009 by former police Supt. Jody Weis.

As a result of the investigations, the department is seeking to fire 14 officers for alleged violations of the medical policy. Another 19 face possible suspensions and about 70 have received lesser forms of discipline, according to the department.

“When I arrived, many officers came to me and warned me of the potential for abuse of this program,” said Weis, now deputy director of the Chicago Crime Commission.

“The investigations conducted by the Medical Integrity Unit show that the overwhelming number of officers on medical are on it for legitimate reasons. However, I am pleased that for those who chose to abuse the system, justice was served,” Weis said.

Chicago cops have a generous medical-leave policy. Under their contract, they’re allowed 365 days of sick leave every two years.

In 2009, officers took about 150,000 sick days for an average of 11.6 per officer. The department did not have figures for 2010.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former chairman of the City Council’s Police and Fire Committee, says eliminating the medical-leave policy could help Mayor Rahm Emanuel achieve a proposed $190 million cut in the police department’s $1.3 billion budget.

Not so fast, responded Bill Dougherty, first vice president of Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police.

“If you look at this compared to Joe Citizen you say, ‘Wow, this is a lot of medical days.’ But for every year that goes by, half our department does not take a single day of the medical,” Dougherty said.

He estimated 5 percent of officers abuse the policy.

“They are few and far between,” Dougherty said.

Janice Richard-Kamalu is one of the officers the department accused of being a medical-roll scofflaw. In 2009, she visited a doctor and received a prescription for a sinus infection, testimony showed. She was placed on the department’s medical roll. An investigator videotaped her walking out of her South Side home two days in a row to clear snow from her sidewalk. But she never called a supervisor first, the investigator testified.

After a hearing in February, the Chicago Police Board rejected Weis’ recommendation to fire her. Instead, she was suspended for 10 days for filing false reports. She lied when she told the department she “looked outside to see [her] neighbor snow blowing and thought ‘what a wonderful thing’ because [she] was sick,” the board ruled. She also lied when she said she was visiting a doctor while she was actually clearing snow, the board decided.

But the board decided not to punish her for leaving her home to clear snow without permission. The board does not provide a reasoning for its decisions. But a majority of members apparently agreed with her attorney, Colleen Daly, who argued that the intent of the policy isn’t to have officers call their supervisors for trivial things like shoveling snow or taking their dogs for a walk.

“Let’s remember why she was on the medical roll that day. Sinusitus. A head cold. We’re not talking about a slipped disk. We’re not talking about a physical injury. We are talking about a cold,” Daly said.

Board President Demetrius Carney and another board member dissented, saying they believed Richard-Kamalu deserved a more serious penalty.

During the next two months, the police board will hear four other cases in which the superintendent is seeking to fire officers for allegedly violating the medical policy.

One officer is accused of going to Westfield Chicago Ridge Shopping Mall in March 2010 when she should have been home. Another officer allegedly made trips to a grocery, a Church’s Chicken restaurant and a school in December 2009.

A third officer allegedly took an August 2010 trip to Punta Cana, a resort town in the Dominican Republic, while she was on the medical roll. And a fourth officer allegedly faked a hand injury, which kept him on the medical roll for about two weeks last year because he claimed he could not use his weapon.

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