If you called your boss incompetent in public, could you get away with it?
That very question is now before the Chicago Police Department Internal Affairs Division, after a veteran Lieutenant publicly criticized Police Supt. Jody Weis in his personal blog.
"My client's speech is clearly protected by the first amendment," said attorney Tom Needham. "If a public employee is addressing a matter of public concern, or an issue that the public is concerned about, then that speech is protected."
At issue are the postings of Lt. John Andrews, who used a blog normally reserved for tales of life on the road on his motorcycle, for pointed barbs about Weis and his stewardship of the department.
Andrews said he was prompted to write after seeing a third police officer shot to death this year.
"We have lost control of the social order on many of the streets and some of the tougher neighborhoods of this city," Andrews said. "This is the very worst I've seen this department."
Andrews appeared with his attorney during an hour-long appearance at Chicago police headquarters Friday morning. Afterward, he declined to answer questions, citing the ongoing IAD investigation. But Needham contended the department should rule that Andrews had every right to speak publicly about his concerns.
"All Lt. Andrews has done in his public statements, and in his Internet blog, is to address matters that everyone in Chicago is concerned about," Needham said. "The leadership of this department, the staffing levels of this department, and the equipment that these officers are being forced to use."
"He certainly didn't bring the Chicago Police Department into disrespect or disrepute, because that's what he's accused of."
Within the department, fellow officers say Andrews has become something of a folk hero.
As he stood outside after his appearance at the IAD, a plainclothes officer stopped him and shook his hand, asking him to "keep up the good work." And veteran commander James Maurer, now retired, offered a post of his own, declaring his support.
"I have never seen this department in a more depressed state," Maurer wrote. "Weis has presided over the most drastic decrease in manpower in the history of Chicago. His administration is clueless, and he is simply out of touch with reality."
Requests for comment from police administration on Friday went unanswered. But earlier this week when the blog postings first came to light, Weis declared that comments such as those offered by Andrews had no place in the department.
"I don't think leaders should throw rocks at their agencies," Weis said, "or those who are trying to address the challenges."