Jeff started working at the Sheriff’s six months before I did. He was an investigator, I was an administrative assistant. I got fired after nine years, in 1986. Jeff went on to become an assistant director. On April 27 he starts a seven-month prison term for fixing deputy tests.

I hear the Sheriff’s has changed some since I worked there. Maybe it has, maybe it hasn’t. When I worked there, anyway, the big draw was guns and badges. When you got hired you got a badge, with the badge you could carry a gun. Even administrative types like me were armed. A month after I started my boss says,

“You want to carry a gun?”


After only one week of gun school I was legally authorized to carry a gun. I even got a low-numbered gold badge because I was an office supervisor.

Chicago has always been a rough and tumble town; guns are necessary if you’re a small entrepreneur, and there were lots of small entrepreneurs at the Sheriff’s.

I was always getting calls from business associates offering me “hang-around jobs.” A hang-around job is simply hanging around the store looking nasty and letting people see your gun bulge.

The other big sideline was collecting bad debts. We weren’t supposed to do this, but these were the type of debts that deadbeats expected guys with guns to collect. I never did this. I was too lazy. The Sheriff’s was a good place to work if you were lazy. The thinking was “I got badge and gun. I big man. I got clout. I do nothing.”

Many people wanted these jobs. Screening them was a function of the Sheriff’s Police Merit Board, where Jeff and I worked. We gave a written test to applicants. When I got my job I took the test over the phone. I got an 89. It was an idiot test, but we had a lot of morons come in. We only required 42 right out of 80 questions. Just over 50 percent. Way below school level. Half our applicants flunked.

But they all liked guns.

My boss would call me in and say to “reschedule” a flunker for another test.

“Make sure you give him the directions clearly. Touch all bases with him.” His way of telling me to pass the flunker. Didn’t help. Usually they scored lower on the second go-round. The next step was bribery.

C___, an investigator, got fired for selling jobs. He had one guy, a landscaper, do his yard. Some others paid money and such. Being C___ of course he didn’t deliver the jobs. Maybe someone in an office subplot flunked his guys for who knows what obscure political reason. C___ was a jerk and I didn’t like working with him either. I could never figure out if he got fired for selling jobs or for selling jobs and not delivering.

People believe that grease works in Chicago. They like believing it. It’s a matter of image.

Two dummies come in and ask about their applications.

“No record.”

“Well we talked to this guy who said he could help us. He said he worked here.”

“Never heard of him.” They frown, look at each other, then look at me. I take their story.

Some guy sets himself up with free applications from different government agencies. Charges a few dollars to give them out. As he gives them out he talks to the people. With most he simply tells them where to file the application and what goes with it. But as he talks, he looks for very special-type persons. He looks for dummies. When he hits on a dummy he starts hinting about clout and politics and “I got friends…” and to a Chicagoan it sounds perfectly normal. Even if you’re not a dummy. The dummy starts paying the guy big money.

This guy made one mistake. He stayed in the same spot too long. His dummies wised up and decided to check. We moved fast. Some of our real police-type deputies set up a deal on him and took him down in just two days. A very Chicago kind of crime, complete with a moral: the police don’t tolerate outsiders messing on their turf.

If someone finally was hired his first assignment was usually as a warrant deputy. A warrant deputy’s job was to go into the office and pick up the day’s warrants. Take your own car and serve the warrants. Do car paperwork to get reimbursed for mileage. Turn in paperwork. Be done by lunch. They didn’t care how quick you did it. Just do it. Serve your papers, you’re through for the day.

There were a few variations. Having your cousin from the old country do it for ten dollars was one. “Sewer Service” was the name of another. This entailed driving by the address and flipping the warrant out the window.

Nobody at the Sheriff’s knew gambling was illegal. Or if they did they didn’t let that interfere. Every department had its pools. Many employees were avid gamblers. Even I myself liked to gamble. But these guys were pros. Not just friendly on-the-big-game bets but week in, week out, call-and-get-the-line bettors. The horses were favorites also. The warrant districts with racetracks were always choice assignments. After serving subpoenas, a deputy could spend the rest of the day at the track.

This system was designed to be subverted. Actually it was designed to get political donations. Entrepreneurs would make contributions to get these jobs. You basically worked part-time and got paid full-time. You could carry your gun on regular business. You could irritate your neighbors and they couldn’t do squat about it. You were a respected member of the community. Well, if not respected then feared, which is just as good and even better in Chicago.

One of my bosses was a smoothy. He could really butter on the blarney. I had his number in a week. He lasted two years. OK to work for. Let you do anything as long as you let him do anything and kept your mouth shut. He’d worked in private industry and left suddenly when they took a close look at his operations. A heavy relative got him the job with our office.

He’d been well paid at his other job and had trouble living within his county salary. He was a high roller. Most smoothies are. His act was manipulation of expense accounts.

He had a couple of reporter friends and he’d put down that he took them out to lunch on behalf of good public relations for the Sheriff. Usually at a cost of $100 a lunch. Just enough to make the weekly juice with his bad debts. Of course he never did–take them out to lunch that is. Well once maybe for coffee, and then the reporter got stuck with the tab because my boss was tossing him “inside” dope.

After several months of fake $100 lunches with reporters nobody liked, the comptroller’s office called foul. They had me down and asked “What the hell?” I blandly told them it was all BS, that he knew those guys but never took them to lunch. Just used it as a way to get money. They had a fit. I shrugged. C’est la vie.

They said I had to tell him no more fake lunches. I got the impression they weren’t really upset about the money, just that it was too easy to catch. Using reporters’ names just wasn’t smart. If word got out it would be too easy for reporters to ask themselves if a county employee had taken them out for a $100 lunch. Maybe a TV reporter wouldn’t remember but a print reporter would certainly remember not being taken out for a $100 lunch.

So I told my boss no more reporters’ lunches. This slowed him down for about ten minutes.

He cracked up his own car drunk one night and needed wheels. He got the Sheriff’s police department to issue him a car from the impound lot. Impounded cars are confiscated from criminals. Most are auctioned but some are held back for county use. He was able to get this car because our office dealt in jobs. In Chicago jobs are power. Power attracts. Everybody does favors for people involved in the job office. The guys in the police department gave him the car simply because they knew that one day they’d have a relative or girlfriend or somebody to get a job for. My boss took the impound car and gave it to his family to replace the cracked-up car.

He still needed a car for himself so he got one from the rental place next door and charged it to the county. This worked for a while but the gas was a problem. He had to get gas for both cars. He could take the impound to the county gas dump and fillerup forever. But how to get gas for the rental? The impound was a junker and the rental car was a luxury job. You know which car he never drove. He solved it by telling a clerk in the comptroller’s office that the impound was a pool car for our investigators and he needed the rental for his duties. Getting the comptroller’s clerk’s cousin a job sealed the deal.

As an office type I did not have a car issued to me. When I needed one I’d call the motor pool. This was OK except when they stuck you with a marked car. Driving a marked car is a heavy burden. Especially if you’re wearing a $600 suit. So I’d play roof inspector when I had to drive a marked car. I’d drive along and only look at the roofs of the buildings. That way I would not see some old lady come running out screaming,

“Officer, officer. Help! Help!”

“Whatsamatter lady?”

“You got to help me! My husband’s upstairs! He’s been drinking! He’s got a gun! He says he won’t come down! I want him out!”

“How long’s he been up there lady?”

“He’s been doin’ it for 20 years.”

Along with cars came parking tickets. Parking tickets in the city have nothing to do with no parking. They have everything to do with revenue. If they really didn’t want you to park there they would give the parking aide a load of bricks and she would heave them through the windshields. That would stop illegal parking real quick. But no, the city needs the money.

If you used your own car on the job and got a parking ticket you could turn it in with a duty form and it would be nonsuited by the court. Perfectly legitimate and legal. The problem was with your off-duty tickets and the tickets of your friends and relatives. This problem led to “rainy day tickets.”

The nonsuit ticket system at the court was based on the preprinted ticket numbers only. But a clerk at the Sheriff’s main office first cross-checked the time and license-plate number before sending the tickets to court. They had to coincide with your own car and duty time. When you had a Saturday-night ticket or one from a friend you just dumped it in water and wiped it with a sponge. This would erase all the pertinent data except the preprinted ticket number. The ticket looked like it had been out in the weather on the windshield. A few weeks later you turned in that month’s batch. If the clerk asked, you would just say it was raining that day. No one would remember what day it rained. And anyway who cares? It always rains in Chicago.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Steven D. Arazmus.