To be a police officer is to make hard decisions. Stop this guy or that guy? Go through the front door or around the back? Shoot or don't shoot?
Later, those decisions get second-guessed, by the brass, by the media, by the officers themselves. Sometimes an action that some view as heroic others find deplorable.
On July 19, Lt. John R. Andrews made a hard decision. He'd had enough. He'd been silent long enough. After careful thought, he pressed a button on his home computer, posting online a 3,000-word critique of the Police Department with the academic-sounding title, "A City at War with Itself: Chicago -- Fast Tracking to Anarchy (Understanding the Organizational Paralysis of the CPD and the Mission to Recovery)."
He described a department "twisted into paralysis by organizational decimation, incompetent leadership, self-serving politics and corruption" singling out for particular scorn Supt. Jodi Weis' appointment last month of Anthony Carothers, brother of disgraced former Ald. Isaac Carothers, as commander of the Englewood District.
"The incompetent political hacks that have been positioned to lead us have only poisoned us as a department," Andrews writes. "They are an embarrassment to be associated with the many honorable men and women of the Chicago Police Department who serve its citizens daily with dignity and distinction."
Online criticism by police is nothing new; the web is spattered with blogs written by indignant cops. But Andrews included something that most do not -- he signed his name.
"I felt it was important to put my name on it because it's easy to dismiss the rantings of an anonymous blogger as a discontented employee," he told me. "But when you're dealing with an officer, a lieutenant of the Chicago Police Department, willing to put his name on it, I believed it would offer credibility to the argument I presented."
Many defend him.
"Any lieutenant you talk to would agree with him," said Bob Weisskopf, president of the 213-member Chicago Police Lieutenants Association.
Others don't. Last week, CPD Internal Affairs filed a disciplinary action against Andrews, claiming he "brought discredit to the Chicago police department by posting on an Internet blog."
Asked for elaboration, the CPD would say only "the comments are under review."
Andrews certainly minces no words, calling Weis' tenure "an unrecoverable failure," and describing a department that is exhausted, understaffed, and reluctant to do its job.
"With the apparent lack of support from the city or their own leadership, many police officers have reduced their proactive performance and now only contribute at minimum levels," he writes.
Andrews could be fired.
"I don't believe it's right or just or even lawful," said Andrews, 51, who lives in Clearing on the Southwest Side. "I'm an exemplary employee with zero disciplinary problems. I've been a cop for almost 26 year now. They just want to intimidate me, to muzzle me, so I don't continue embarrassing them."
I occasionally hear from dissatisfied officers; they usually turn out to be chronic complainers with laundry lists of gripes. Andrews doesn't fit that mold.
"John is anything but a loose cannon," said Bill Kushner, now retired, but with the department for 29 years before becoming the chief of police in Berwyn. "John is a very intelligent individual, very much in control of himself, his emotions. He loves the Chicago Police Department, he loves the city of Chicago. I think his writing was born out of frustration with the way thing are going. The department is a shell of itself -- they're 3,000 people short. He seems to have hit the nail on the head and has to be commended for his courage."
"It's a constitutional rights issue," said Weisskopf. "He has a right to free speech. Are they now going to be monitoring everything we do and say anywhere? I think it's a big mistake for the department [to go after him], but it's very indicative of the way they've been over the past few years."
Perhaps. But in what other business could a mid-level executive -- that's what a lieutenant basically is -- post a screed denouncing his company's leaders as corrupt incompetents and still keep his job?
You look at Andrews' resume -- a master's degree in "organizational leadership" from Lewis University -- and he obviously is a guy who thought he'd be going places. It is not the resume of someone who didn't want to rise through the ranks.
"If I were a command member of the Chicago Police Department, a gold star, and was to say something critical of the department like this, obviously I would lose my command," he said. "I would be demoted, would be held in utter disdain. That would be a career breaker. Myself, yes, I had aspirations of rising higher than the rank of lieutenant. I don't think it'll happen now that I've done what I've done. But not everybody has to be a chief. Maybe there are too many chiefs already. Maybe we need some stronger Indians. I've never seen it like this in 25 years at the Chicago Police Department, never seen it descend to such a level. We need change."
Andrews said this isn't about him.
"The alarm needed to be sounded," he said. "Too many people on this job are afraid to say anything. I'm not on a soapbox, trying to rant. I want to sound a warning. We really need to change. I'm not doing this for myself, absolutely. I'm not naive. I knew there would be personal risks and consequences.
"I don't believe I've brought discredit to the Police Department. I believe they have."