Chicago Sun-Times
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Column: One of the good guys

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At a time when families were preparing to enjoy the long holiday weekend, the unthinkable happened.

Richard Francis, 60, a veteran Chicago Police officer, was shot to death when he responded to a disturbance outside of a CTA bus.

Francis was alone in a squad car when he was flagged down by a CTA bus driver.

No matter what your issues are with police, you have to admire that at 2 in the morning, Francis was on his beat doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing.

And then you have to wonder -- why, in a city that has seen its murder rate climb 13 percent over last year -- you have to wonder why Francis was alone in the squad car.
Suspect may have been mentally ill

Why wasn't there anyone at his side to back him up in case the disturbance proved to be more than he could handle?

We don't know how the shooter, a woman, managed to get the officer's gun during the incident, but Francis was shot in the head and died.

The police officers who rushed to the scene ended up shooting the woman multiple times. She survived the gunshots and was taken to Illinois Masonic, where she was in critical condition Wednesday afternoon.

I don't know, maybe Francis just didn't think the woman was capable of such deadly behavior.

After all, officers said they had seen the woman asleep in chairs at the station, and believed her to be homeless. Other sources told reporters that they believed the woman was mentally ill.

And again, you have to wonder.

'Did his job without complaints'

Why wasn't the city's Department of Health and Human Services called in to intervene? Why wasn't the woman referred to a mental health facility? Why was she allowed to roam the streets?

Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis called Francis' death a "tragic loss."

"It is a stark reminder of what the dangers are that the officers of this department face every day," he said.

Compared with the war that is raging on the city's South Side, the Northwest Side has been relatively quiet.

This police shooting is a tragic reminder that officers on the street are battling all kinds of violence.

Murders are up in Chicago. Through the end of June, the city has had 229 murders, compared with 203 for the same period last year.

With all the complaints about police shootings and misconduct, it is also a tough time to be a cop.

But Francis was described by one of his bosses "as someone who did his job without any complaints."

He was a veteran of the midnight watch, and worked in a police wagon. That couldn't have been a fun job.

When you're out in the wee hours of the morning, you see a different Chicago. This Chicago doesn't have the sparkle of the sun lighting up its skyscrapers or the hustle and flow of millions of feet.

This Chicago has the stench of a sweaty day clinging to it and the sparse traffic of those who lurk in shadows.

It is in this Chicago that Francis did what he had to do.

According to neighbors who talked to reporters after the tragedy, the police officer was married and had two stepdaughters.

He got up and went to work every day on the worst possible shift and stayed home with his special-needs stepdaughter so his wife could go to work.

Citizens should honor Francis

If Francis had been a rogue cop, he probably wouldn't have been at the bus stop. If he had been the kind of cop who blows off a call because he's tired of risking his neck for people who seem ungrateful, maybe he would be alive today.

But he wasn't that kind of cop.

"He was one of the cops who never get recognized, but if we didn't have him, this city would be a terrible place," said Bruce Rottner, deputy chief of the Belmont Area.

Chicago Police officers will honor their slain colleague, just as they have always done. But citizens should find ways to honor him as well.

Francis' death reminds us that when a police officer responds to our calls for help, most of them are still putting their lives on the line.

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This page contains a single entry by Mary Mitchell published on July 3, 2008 5:37 PM.

Cabrini-Green gate tragedy not related to race, or is it? was the previous entry in this blog.

Michelle Obama is being stereotyped is the next entry in this blog.

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