December 16, 2011 09:15 AM
City Treasurer Uses Police Security Detail for Personal Business
Why are Chicago taxpayers paying for a police officer to chauffeur Stephanie Neely to the gym, and her kid to school?
By Patrick Rehkamp/BGA and Dane Placko/FOX Chicago
How would you like a police chauffeur to give your kid a ride to school, or give you a lift to the gym?
FOX Chicago News and the Better Government Association found one elected official using her police perk for more than the public's business.
Chicago Treasurer Stephanie Neely is getting a free ride in an M-plated, unmarked, police car – by a full-time city cop.
FOX Chicago and the BGA had to fire questions at Neely as she headed to a meeting because she refused to sit down and talk about how she uses that car, and the cop assigned to drive her around.
Acting on a tip, news investigators followed Neely on five occasions in December, to see whether she was using her perk for more than city business.
Around 6:30 on a Friday morning the officer drops Neely off at her South Side home after what looks like an early-morning trip to the gym.
On a snowy Thursday, he was spotted bringing in her garbage can from the curb.
The car is frequently parked for long stretches outside her home - at least once in the middle of the afternoon. The footage gathered includes the driver sitting outside the house, just reading a book.
When they do move, it's at speeds so fast that FOX and the BGA couldn't keep up without getting pulled over ourselves.
But the officer is a gentleman, even if he has to run to open the door to City Hall for Neely.
"Unless she is carrying the city treasury around with her, it's hard to imagine why she needs an armed police bodyguard," the BGA’s Andy Shaw said, "especially one who is worrying about her garbage."
But here is what really caught investigators by surprise: Neely's son getting into the M-plated car all alone for a police chauffeured drive presumably to school.
On two other occasions Neely joined her son, and then likely used the car to head to work.
"It doesn't make any sense to me both as a Chicago policeman and a taxpayer," Chicago police union chief Michael Shields said.
Shields said with crime as a constant problem and the police force shrinking, they need every officer on the street now more than ever.
Neely's bodyguard has 17 years of police service, and is making $95,000 a year.
"I'm sure that this officer could be better served backing our guys in Englewood than driving the city treasurer around," Shields said.
Last summer Mayor Rahm Emanuel ordered a review of police details for politicians. He then replaced Alderman Ed Burke's officers with retired cops and eliminated officers for others.
"They're going to look at everybody's security. They're going to make that judgment," the mayor said in June. "It's what they were supposed to do based on security, not politics."
FOX and the BGA were told the mayor wanted to take away both of Neely’s bodyguards, but allowed her to keep one cop after she put up a fight.
"None of us want to put Stephanie Neely at risk or her kid at risk," Shaw said. "We're not being insensitive to her as a single mom, or her kid, but this is just not the appropriate use of a police officer for a relatively unknown public official."
Neely’s picture was shown to 10 Chicago residents - not a single one knew who she was. One even thought she might be a local news anchor.
In response to city residents who pay tax money for these courtesies but do not get them, Neely said the detail came with her job.
"It's how I execute my duties as treasurer," Neely said. "His day starts when my day starts."
Treasurer Neely's office issued a statement that reads in part:
"The treasurer's work schedule often stretches to 70 to 80 hours a week, including Saturdays and Sundays... (And) takes her to every corner of the city at every hour of the day and night. It is a schedule that would be impossible without the care and service that the security detail provides."
This story was reported and written by BGA Senior Investigator Patrick Rehkamp, and Dane Placko of FOX Chicago News. To contact Rehkamp, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (312) 386-9201.