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CHICAGO -- It's maybe the last great perk a beat cop can get.
A free cup of coffee, a discount on a greasy burger.
Though many police departments officially frown on freebies, coffee houses and restaurants around the city and suburbs give the gratis, and the officers' bosses seem to look the other way.
But there's another unwritten rule: Cops can't demand the free stuff. And that's just what officials say Chicago Police Officer Barbara Nevers did, demanding free coffee and pastries from a half-dozen Starbucks stores over the years, until she was banned from one of the java joints and a memo was sent to other stores.
The 55-year-old veteran of more than a decade was suspended for 18 months and recommended for counseling after showing her gun and badge to intimidate employees into giving her free coffee, according to documents released Thursday.
Nevers' actions may have cemented one of the oldest stereotypes about cops -- you know, the one about the certain circular pastry they're supposed to love. But she also took advantage of a time-honored tradition: giving hard-working public servants a little gastro-love.
A few Dunkin Donuts employees around Chicago said they often give 10 percent discounts to cops and the elderly. A 7-Eleven employee at 180 N. Franklin St. said she gives officers who visit a free cup of coffee.
At the Golden Angel in the Lincoln Square neighborhood Thursday, a waitress said, yes, they give 50 percent discounts to the cops who frequent.
"There's a few sitting right here," Julie Paterno said as she watched them munch on chicken-fried steak.
Paterno said customers like the feeling of safety when a police officer is around, and the restaurant feels like it's helping out some public servants.
"I'm thinking most restaurants do it for protection, so they'll keep an eye on the place," she said.
In Lincolnwood, at the all-night Whistler's Restaurant, owner Chris Dimas says it's a give and take. He likes officers to be around his restaurant late at night, and they like his food.
"At night, you don't know the people around, so it is good for them to be here, eating my food," said Dimas, who has owned the place for more than 30 years. There are some officers who don't accept his freebies because their bosses don't like it, and some officers he doesn't know and thus doesn't offer the discount, he said.
"If they feel comfortable with us, we feel comfortable with them and appreciate what they do," he said.
Starbucks has no official policy regarding free coffee for police, leaving that decision up to each franchise, company officials said Thursday. According to testimony before the Chicago Police Board, which decides cases of misconduct, employees in several North Side Starbucks said they often give free 12-ounce coffee or tea to officers on duty. But Nevers would often ask for a larger size or multiple drinks, employees said.
Some employees testified that between 1999 and 2004 Nevers frequented their stores weekly, often in street clothes, and flashed a badge or flipped her jacket to reveal her gun if they asked for payment. In 2004, she was accused of stealing a juice drink from one Starbucks, but eventually was acquitted.
One manager at a Starbucks in the 1700 block of West Diversey Parkway testified that Nevers started asking for free pastries too, and got angry when the store employees refused. The manager told Nevers she wasn't welcome in the store anymore, and testified that Nevers walked behind the store counter, asking angrily if she wasn't welcome, before leaving.
"She was vehement about getting the free pastries," the manager testified.
Several employees said most officers who come in are friendly and always offer to pay before being told that it is on the house. But Nevers was unprofessional, they said, and rarely talked with employees before demanding free coffee. Her actions made even other officers who went to the Starbucks suspicious, believing she could be a police impersonator, one employee testified.
A district manager eventually sent out a memo to stores Nevers frequented, saying free coffee wasn't allowed for her anymore, according to the testimony.
Nevers joined the force when she was 41 but after an injury in training spent most of her time off the street at "call-back," where officers write reports and handle calls. She denied that she demanded coffee or flashed her gun to intimidate the employees, and said she only took free coffee when offered.
"I don't demand anything," Nevers told the Police Board, adding that she always put $2 in a tip jar when she was offered free coffee. Her attorney said Nevers was only accepting what had been a custom in Chicago.
It's a custom that's not likely to change any time soon, rules or no rules. At the Golden Angel on Thursday, Paterno tallied up the bill she'd given the two police officers who stopped by -- $6, after the 50 percent discount. The cops didn't forget their waitress, though.
"They both left $2 apiece," she said.