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Police, Fire Departments Make Show Of Unity As They Move In Together

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Police Headquarters

Chicago Police Headquarters, 3510 S. Michigan Ave. (Credit: CBS)

Jay Levine Jay Levine
Jay Levine is the chief correspondent for CBS 2 Chicago. He joined...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – Are they strange bedfellows or public safety partners? That’s the question on Tuesday as Mayor Rahm Emanuel got a tour of the new headquarters of the Chicago Fire Department.

The Fire Department’s administrative offices have now moved into Police Headquarters, at 3510 S. Michigan Av, even as the investigation into a shoving match between members of the two departments continues.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine asked Fire Commissioner Bob Hoff about the incident, in which a Fire Capt. Mark Altman was accused of shoving Police Marine Unit Officer Joe Smith to the ground during a river rescue.

Hoff said the confrontation was still under investigation as of Tuesday, but then he went on to talk about disciplinary action and fixing things, which underscored the mayor’s attempted show of unity between the two agencies.

It was a carefully orchestrated event.

The mayor, Hoff and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy were all smiles as they walked the line of top officials at the Police and Fire departments, an appearance intended to dispel reports that friction could interfere with the transition.

“It’s just like having a family. You can have rifts between people, they’re very minor, they get correct and you move on,” Hoff said.

He said that’s how he’d describe the dispute that is under investigation.

“The investigation’s not complete, so I’m not going to comment on all the facts, because I wasn’t there, but it will be fixed,” Hoff said. “We’ll correct it and if there’s disciplinary action needs to be taken, we’ll do that and we’ll move on.”

For now, they’re moving in at Police Headquarters – now renamed Public Safety Headquarters. The walls of the Fire Department’s second floor offices were still being painted fire red on Tuesday. The building is just a few hundred yards away from the IIT high rise they rented for the last decade.

As for the allegations that Altman and Smith came to blows over a Chicago River rescue on Nov. 1, Ald. Nick Sposato (36th), a veteran firefighter, said protocol was clear.

“My understanding is he was the captain and he was the highest ranking officer there. He was in charge, yes,” Sposato said.

Asked if that would include being in charge of police officers at the scene, Sposato said “I guess.”

“I wasn’t there, I’m not familiar with the situation, I just know what kind of guy Captain Altman is. He’s a hard-working, good guy and, you know, there had to just be some sort of misunderstanding.”

Sposato said the dispute is not indicative of any kind of long-standing bad blood between the two departments.

Pat Camden, spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police said, “We kid, we have a rivalry. The 40 years I was with the city, I never saw a problem of any significance with the Fire Department. This isn’t New York, this is Chicago.”

“I understand there’s a huge problem between the fire and the police in New York,” Camden added. But not in Chicago.

“No, absolutely not,” he said.

Hoff was also asked about charges made by Chicago City Inspector General Joseph Ferguson that Hoff tried to block the IG investigation of the confrontation between Smith and Altman, Hoff said that was not true.

“All I asked was they inform me before summoning Fire Department personnel for interviews,” he said.

While there had been reports of criminal charges, it now appears some kind of internal discipline appears more likely for the dispute.

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