Just a couple of hours after the feds charged former police commander Jon Burge with perjury and obstruction of justice Tuesday, Democratic state’s attorney nominee Anita Alvarez conceded that Cook County prosecutors—which would include her current boss, state’s attorney Richard Devine, and her onetime boss, Richard M. Daley, though she didn’t use their names—should have done more to bring the accused torturer to justice. But Alvarez said she has worked during her 22-year career in the office to make sure nothing similar happens again.
Despite mounting evidence and often withering criticism, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office never prosecuted Burge. When I asked Alvarez during an interview if she thought Devine, her boss the last 12 years, had looked the other way instead of going after Burge, she said: “I don’t think he was part of any internal cover-up or anything, but when the allegations first surfaced, more could have been done—not just on our part but on the part of the Chicago Police Department.”
Daley, of course, was state’s attorney at that time and almost certainly was aware of the allegations against Burge. Alvarez, who’s running against Republican Tony Peraica and Green Tom O’Brien, was hired by Daley in 1986 and worked her way up to hold the number three post in the office under Devine. She stressed that she’s helped implement crucial reforms since rising to the top ranks.
“When the allegations first surfaced, I was still in undergrad. I don’t think I can be criticized for that,” she said. “As a young assistant state’s attorney, I worked in the appellate division writing briefs. What’s important is that as we went along with the process and a special prosecutor was assigned, we cooperated fully. Whatever Egan and Boyle needed, we gave them. We created a new unit for professional standards—even if it should have been created 30 years earlier. Videotaping of interrogations—I’ve been part of those things. That’s important to note. I’ve been part of these changes and they’re not going away.”
Earlier Tuesday, Alvarez told a group of lawyers and students at the Chicago-Kent College of Law that she’d personally prosecuted corrupt cops and would continue to crack down on police abuse as state’s attorney.
“I support what Patrick Fitzgerald did this morning—I was watching the press conference before we came here,” she said. “I don’t think there’s room to have officers who are abusive on the force. With the work that we do, it only makes our job harder. There are some police who abuse their badge.
“Having worked in this office for 22 years, I’ve worked with some very good police officers and outstanding police officers, but I’ve also prosecuted and convicted three members of the now infamous SOS unit. So I know there are officers who do abuse that badge and it makes our life and our job that much harder to do.
“It’s a matter of training in our office. It’s a matter of making sure that if there’s any allegation, if an assistant state’s attorney sees something as horrific as this, that it does get reported and we do stay on top of it. We will continue to be vigilant from this day on, and actually from when I was supervising that unit and I saw the positive changes that were made, and it has to remain that way.”