More than 200 Chicago police officers, former officers and their families packed a makeshift chapel today at the Fraternal Order of Police, offering a unified prayer to heal a popular former police superintendent in the fight of his life.
Philip J. Cline, 61, whose four decades in a Chicago police uniform were filled with commendations and controversy, is resting at home this week after doctors discovered tumors on his pancreas. The prognosis is uncertain, family said, as they await results of a biopsy that could come as early as Monday.
“Right now, he’s in a lot of pain. But he still has his sense of humor, and that’s helping him,” said son Matt Cline, a Chicago police sergeant.
Matt Cline said his father, who climbed the ranks over a storied career to become police superintendent in 2003, has been buoyed by the recent outpouring of support from what many simply called “the brotherhood,” that tight fraternity of officers and their families who stand beside those in need.
Few understand that relationship as well as Cline, friends said, who after retiring amid controversy from the department in 2007 chose to join a fledgling charity set up to help the families of officers killed or seriously injured in the line of duty. Cline’s popularity and prominence raised the profile of the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, which has helped scores of families recover from tragedy.
“Phil makes sure we haven’t been forgotten, that we’re still remembered as police officers,” said Jim Mullen, a decorated officer who became paralyzed from the neck down after a shooting at a Rogers Park apartment complex in 1996. “He’s been invaluable to all the families who’ve suffered. He just loves us all.”
Mullen was one of several former officers in wheelchairs at the vigil, men whose recovery is credited in part to the generosity and involvement of the memorial foundation.
“Phil Cline shows up for all of us in our time of need. How could we not be there for his?” said Mike Shields, president of the Chicago chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Cline joined the police force as a cadet in 1968, but began to make a name for himself in the late 1970s when he joined forces with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for the city’s first successful busts of curbside drug markets. Over the next two decades, Cline’s work in narcotics helped refine the city’s approach toward investigating drug sales and trafficking. But it wasn’t without scrutiny.
In 1981, federal prosecutors chose not to use evidence collected in three searches of accused drug dealer Charles W. Wilson after questions surfaced about the validity of search warrants Cline approved. Under pressure to clear up the controversy, Cline instead invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination but continued to work for years with the DEA on federal drug cases.
Years later, Clime abruptly resigned as the city’s top cop amid an uproar over several high-profile allegations of police brutality, including the infamous beating caught on tape of a female bartender at a Northwest Side bar. Mayor Richard Daley, a longtime friend and ally, accepted Cline’s resignation, saying the incidents “tarnish the entire department.”
It would have been easy, at that point, for Cline to retire and turn his back on the department, but he believed in the “brotherhood” of the officers and wanted to help, friends said.
“It speaks of his love and commitment to those who serve and protect,” said Police Chaplain Rev. Daniel Brandt, a longtime friend. “He easily could have just sat back and enjoyed retirement. But there was more he wanted to do.”
When word spread late last week that officers were organizing a vigil for Cline, so many people responded that Brandt had to abandon the usual Sunday mass at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, which only seats “about 100.” Even the union hall at the Fraternal Order of Police could not contain the overflow crowd, which spilled into the courtyard outside.
“Phil doesn’t like being the center of attention, he’s a humble guy,” said Hiram Grau, Cline’s former deputy director and now the director of the Illinois State Police. “But it’s important he be honored. He’s someone who has made a difference on the streets of Chicago.”
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