Archive for January, 2011

‘Bag Man’ a Symbol of Illinois Justice Run Amok

In a previous post, SF (Spingola Files) took a look at the “Punishers”—an alleged group of Milwaukee Police  Department (MPD) officers.  Citing an internal MPD report, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter John Diedrich strongly suggests that a rogue clique operated within the department’s ranks, even though Chief of Police Edward Flynn’s investigators consider the Punishers little more than an urban legend.

But 80 miles to Milwaukee’s south, an actual story of institutionalize police abuse has made headlines.

“Decades after young black men in Chicago first began claiming that a white policeman shocked, burned and suffocated them to get confessions,” the Associated Press reports, “ former officer Jon Burge is headed to federal prison.” 

As a Chicago Police Department commander, it is alleged that Burge used techniques that would make a seasoned Gitmo interrogator blush. 

The system, however, failed to charge Burge with criminal charges for torturing arrestees in the 1970s and 1980s.  Instead, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald charged Burge with two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury for providing false testimony in a civil lawsuit.  The plaintiff in the civil case, Madison Hobley, was convicted of starting a 1987 fire that caused the deaths of seven people, including Hobley’s wife and son.  

In court papers, Hobley contends that his interrogators—Chicago police detectives—attempted to suffocate him by placing a plastic cover over his head.  In the vernacular of its users, this highly illegal enhanced interrogation technique was apparently referred to as “bagging.” 

During testimony in the civil case, Burge denied any knowledge of prisoner abuse and claimed he never participated in such activities. The federal indictment charged Burge with lying about the torture that took place under his watch. 

Burge was subsequently convicted and, last week, sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison.  U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow’s sentence was almost twice the time the recommend federal guidelines called for.  Lefkow then ripped the Chicago police hierarchy, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office and federal investigators at the time for failing to halt Burge’s bag men.

But prior to sentencing, Burge received support from former subordinates, some of whom claimed the former commander—drummed-off the police force in 1993—was a cop’s, cop who sought justice for victims of horrific crimes.

The harsh reality of institutionalized cases of police abuse, such as those sanctioned by Burge et al, serve only to discredit the police service, where detectives work long hours under difficult conditions to obtain the evidence lawfully needed to obtain criminal convictions.  The current practice of video taping confessions for serious crimes is a product of allegations of prisoner abuse.

Former Illinois governor George Ryan, who now, ironically, also calls federal prison home, took Burge’s conduct into consideration when he placed a moratorium on that state’s death penalty.

No doubt, the unjust murder convictions of Gary Gauger in McHenry County and the recent arrest of innocent off-duty police officer Brian Dorian in Will County for the ‘honeybee shootings’ paint a portrait of an Illinois criminal justice that is increasingly dysfunctional and in need of a top-down review.  Our neighbors to the south might want to use Burge’s sentence and Judge Lefkow’s harsh words a catalyst to overhall that state’s system of injustice.


Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of Predators on the Parkway: a Former Homicide Detective Explores the Colonial Parkway Murders

If your organization is in need of a fascinating guest speaker, consider the Spingola Files presentation The Psychology of Homicide.  For more information, visit

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2011

A Punishing Story of Rumor and Innuendo

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Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of Predators on the Parkway: a Former Homicide Detective Explores the Colonial Parkway Murders

If your organization is in need of a fascinating guest speaker, consider Steve Spingola’s presentation The Psychology of Homicide.  For more information, visit:

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2011

Is Milwaukee Sliding Back into the Homicide Abyss?

Ringing in the New Year with a bang is, unfortunately, a tradition practiced in some of Milwaukee’s troubled -neighborhoods.  

I vividly recall the first 30 minutes of a recently ushered-in 1980s New Year, as my squad partner and I stood just outside of District Five.  Initially, some of the area’s residents celebrated with small arms fire.  Within a few minutes, the blasts grew increasingly louder, as if some sort of competition existed to see who had the largest caliber handgun. 

Nonetheless, this bizarre and extremely dangerous form of celebration is the impetus for annual reflection, especially when tallying the number of yearly homicides. 

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) confirm that homicide is the crime most often reported, which is why media outlets tend to focus on the number of bodies that turn-up at the local morgue.   Over the last 15 years, though, many law enforcement veterans believe that significant improvements in trauma care have skewed the homicide rate as a gage for violence.  Instead, some—like retired Milwaukee Police Department Captain Glenn Frankovis—believe the number of persons shot and/or involved in gunfights are a better barometer of violent crime trends.

Locally, how violent crime is measured will once again become a heated topic of debate.  In 2010, Milwaukee’s homicide rate jumped 31 percent—the largest single year increase since 2005, when homicides increased almost 39 percent. 

Optimists note that the 91 homicides committed in 2010 are still much lower that the all-time record of 168 in 1991, the year that Jeffrey Dahmer’s murderous rampage was uncovered.   

“We understand that the dynamics and motivation of some forms of homicide are susceptible to police tactics and some are not,” Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  “We need to find out which are and which aren’t.”

Flynn blames the significant spike in homicides to multiple-victim cases.

Pessimists, however, believe that cuts to the overtime budget and changes in the detective bureau are beginning to hamper the MPD’s ability to clear violent crimes, which means offenders remain at large to victimize others. 

No doubt, journalists and politicians will likely scrutinize the MPD’s 2010 clearance rate for homicides and other serious offenses.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Jesse Garza—a reporter in-charge of a homicide related blog—notes that a database maintained by that newspaper suggests 40 of Milwaukee’s homicides from 2010 remain unsolved—a clearance rate of just 56 percent.

With discourse concerning local crime numbers looming, it is imperative to juxtapose Milwaukee’s homicide statistics with other cities.

Unofficial numbers show Chicago homicides fell almost 3.5 percent from 2009 to 447.

In 2010, however, Chicago’s per capita homicide rate was slightly higher than Milwaukee’s.

News accounts from the west coast suggest Los Angeles is set to record fewer than 300 homicides “for the first time in four decades.”

If Los Angeles, a city of almost 3.9 million, had the same homicide rate as Milwaukee in 2010, the city of angles would have experienced 591 homicides.

In 2010, Philadelphia, a tough town with a reputation for violence, recorded 305 homicides.

With a population of almost 1.5 million, Philadelphia would have registered 85 fewer homicides if that city experienced the same per capita murder rate as Milwaukee.

These numbers suggest that Milwaukee’s per capita homicide rate is relatively high. More alarming, however, is the clearance rate, even though official numbers, as well as the methods used to ascertain these statistics, have yet to be reported.

No doubt, with 91 victims of homicide, Milwaukee is in need of a lead abatement program. If Los Angeles, home of the Bloods, the Crips, and Sur 13, can reduce its homicide rates to unprecedented levels, one would think a city of 600,000 could do the same.


Steve Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of Predators on the Parkway: a Former Homicide Detective Explores the Colonial Parkway Murders.

Checkout Steve Spingola’s seminar, The Psychology of Homicide, by visiting

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2011