BGA , Blue Ribbon Panel (part 4)

BGA Report — Part 4 (BGA Report — Part 1 Part 2  Part 3 Part 4)

Report of the Blue Ribbon Panel
Basic Facts Regarding the Crime

On Friday evening, January 8, 1993, shortly after closing, the owners and five employees of the Palatine Brown’s Chicken and Pasta franchise were murdered. The victims included Brown’s owners Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt, Palatine High School students Michael Castro and Rico Solis, and Palatine residents Guadalupe Maldonado, Thomas Mennes, and Marcus Nellson. Between 9 and 10 p.m. on that Friday evening, the killer or killers entered the restaurant and purchased a chicken meal. Thereafter, the restaurant safe was opened, several hundred dollars were taken, and the seven were shot and killed.

The bodies of the victims were left in the two restaurant coolers, piled on top of one another, execution-style. The power in the restaurant was turned off at 9:48 p.m. (as indicated by the electric clock); the killer(s) left at an undetermined time, exiting a crime scene that would not be discovered until 3 a.m. Saturday morning.

In the first minutes after the crime was discovered, officers from the Palatine Police Department and the Cook County Sheriff’s Police (CCSP) were on the scene. Evidence technicians from the Northern Illinois Police Crime Laboratory and the Palatine and CCSP Departments were dispatched, as the local news media began to gather in the Brown’s Chicken parking lot to report on the worst mass murder in suburban Illinois history.

On Monday, January 11, after the only suspect in the murders was released, a formal Investigative Task Force was formed, directed by Palatine Police Chief Jerry Bratcher. By the end of that week, the Task Force would include personnel from the Palatine Police Department, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, the State’s Attorney’s Office, the Illinois State Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Chicago Police Department, and 10 suburban police departments. At its peak, the Task Force was comprised of over 120 individuals.

As of November 1995 however, the crime remained unsolved, and the Task Force had been scaled down to 7 full-time investigators. Frank Portillo, Owner and Chief Executive Officer of Brown’s Chicken and Pasta, asked the Better Government Association and the Chicago Crime Commission to look at the Task Force’s handling of the investigation.

Appointment of a Blue Ribbon Panel

The Chicago Crime Commission and the Better Government Association announced on April 17, 1996, that they had formed an independent panel to review and provide recommendations concerning the handling of murder investigations like the 1993 Brown’s Chicken homicides. The Panel members were selected for their expertise in law enforcement, legal education and the public interest and is composed of former high-level federal, state and city law enforcement investigators, officials, prosecutors and academic experts (Appendix B).

In announcing the creation of the panel, it was emphatically stated:

“Our purpose in convening this panel is not to solve the crime, but to answer some basic questions about whether appropriate resources were deployed in a manner consistent with the professional law enforcement standards which the community has the right to expect.”

(BGA/CCC Press Release, April 17, 1996)

The Palatine Task Force was assembled on an ad hoc basis; its work attracted critical commentary in the media. Accordingly, this Panel’s initial goal was to develop a set of recommendations on how a successful multi-jurisdictional Task Force might be organized to respond to high profile crime situations. It is the Panel’s desire to generate feedback from the suburban law enforcement community, typically inexperienced in homicide investigations of this magnitude, as to which of the proposed task force models seem appropriate to their needs and to help them implement the model they select.

Method of Operation of the Panel

The Better Government Association’s Chief Investigator Michael Lyons spent 18 months interviewing dozens of sources closely connected to the Task Force in addition to other sources in law enforcement. These sources include experienced and high-ranking law enforcement officials, assistant state’s attorneys, and informed citizens — individuals who possess information on the conduct and activities of the Task Force. A variety of internal documents and legal depositions was gathered that provide corroboration for the source interviews. This information, summarizing the BGA investigation, was presented to the Panel.

In addition, some panel members, in small groups, conducted interviews with sources already contacted by the BGA. These interviews provided additional information from which the Panel generated some of its recommendations. A range of law enforcement experts also addressed the Panel, offering among other things, their insights on the Brown’s Chicken investigation and ideal future Task Force responses.

Conclusions of the Blue Ribbon Panel

I. Although no doubt sincere in its desire to solve the crime, the Palatine Police Force was inexperienced in major homicide investigations. Yet, after the task force was assembled, Palatine officers, rather than more experienced officers who then became available, still remained in key positions of responsibility on the Task Force. Overwhelmed by the magnitude of the case, they failed effectively to:

a. secure the crime scene.
b. canvass the surrounding area.
c. coordinate investigative personnel — especially in utilizing those who were often more experienced than Palatine officers in homicide investigations.
d. integrate the variety of resources (e.g. various computer database and analysis capabilities) that were available from the wide range of law enforcement agencies comprising the task force.
e. open basic lines of communication between the Command and rank and file within the Task Force.

II. This inexperience initially contributed to:

a. a delayed discovery of the crime scene.
b. three wasted days of investigative efforts pursuing one lead, subsequently proven false, while ignoring all other investigative avenues.
III. The State’s Attorney’s Office departed from its traditional role, which is to allow the police to solve the crime, and instead insinuated itself into a murder investigation and ultimately emerged as a leader of the Task Force. This resulted in having State’s Attorney’s investigative personnel who were inexperienced in major homicide investigations placed into a key tactical command position. This contributed to:

a. a failure to share critical investigative information among Task Force Investigators.
b. preventing the surveillance of a prime suspect.
c. internal disputes which resulted in the inappropriate release of a prime suspect.
d. feuding among experienced investigators from the various agencies over the handling of a crucial lead.
e. a continuing lack of confidence in the leadership by many Task Force members.
f. a disintegration of the Task Force.
IV. The above Command mistakes led quickly to a defensive posture with the media and the public. This posture led to:
a. placing more emphasis on creating a positive PR spin rather than forming an effective law enforcement team.
b. publicly asserting PR positions often contradicted by the facts available to the Task Force.

V. The Village Trustees and the Mayor of Palatine should have then, now and in the future provide oversight to the police department’s conduct and performance to ensure they have sufficient means necessary to conduct a major homicide investigation.

Panel Recommendations

Brutal, violent, and sensational crimes, like the murders in Palatine, challenge us to rethink how well prepared we are to deal with serious crime. In Cook County alone, outside the City of Chicago, there are over 120 municipal Police Departments, ranging in size from one police officer to 151. They offer a level of protection that varies from less than one-half of a police officer for every thousand citizens to 65 police officers for every thousand. The average size of the suburban departments is 40 police officers. Although most of the larger suburban departments may be well suited for the constituencies they serve and for 99% of the situations they encounter, it is not realistic to expect them to maintain, nor should taxpayers be expected to support, large and highly specialized units to deal with the extremely violent crimes and complex investigations which may only occasionally arise in their jurisdictions (this is the reasoning behind the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Transportation Safety Board and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in their respective areas). Economy of scale requires a more cost efficient approach.

Since the Palatine murders, there have been other suburban homicides which have severely challenged the resources of smaller jurisdictions to respond, and unfortunately there will be more. The City of Chicago, with 13,000 police officers and a national reputation for homicide investigation, currently serves as a resource for any suburban department that finds itself facing a complex murder investigation. However, this is an informal and ad hoc arrangement.

“To be truly effective in responding to the level of violence in the world today, law enforcement agencies must consider how they can best tap the well trained and highly specialized resources of police agencies willing to assist with the manpower commitment, expertise, and coordination necessary to mount a rapid response homicide investigation unit.

“Certainly the traditional safeguarding of turf is a problem in many jurisdictions. Some Chiefs feel threatened by the suggestion that they are unable to successfully investigate a homicide without the assistance of outside experts. Unfortunately, they may be protecting their egos at the victim’s expense as the murder goes unsolved.”

These observations, quoted from the July, 1996, national publication, Police Chief Magazine, could not have been more on point. The key to a successful homicide investigation, especially a complex and perplexing one, is the rapid response of trained and experienced investigators with the skills and resources necessary to deal with this type of crime.

Recommendation I. The appropriate elected officials of each suburban municipality should promptly inventory and periodically review in detail the investigative assets available to their police departments to deal with major violent crimes.
The assets to be reviewed should include:
a. The training and experience of local police officers.
b. The number of officers available for detail to a major crime investigation without compromising daily routine police functions.
c. The availability of accredited laboratory services for testing and preserving evidence.
d. The policies and procedures in place for accessing the resources of other jurisdictions and coordination with the State’s Attorney’s office.

Recommendation II. Suburban law enforcement agencies should immediately begin working to implement a multi-jurisdictional Major Case Squad Model for criminal investigations before another department is faced with a similar tragedy without adequate preparation.
Five basic approaches for dealing with this type of major criminal investigation, in gradations of formality of organization and structure, are listed in Appendix A. Of these, the Major Case Squad option is recommended as the most realistic in terms of possible immediate implementation. The panel also recognized that Metropolitan Policing is a concept that should be explored and evaluated as a possible long term solution.

In each of these models the issues that arise are the funding required to provide adequate police services in response to major complex crimes, the procedures that would have to be instituted, the required level of experience and the necessary training, equipment and technical resources that would be needed at the very beginning of a major crime investigation. Both the New York State Commission of Investigation and the St. Louis Major Case Squad emphasize that the most important characteristic of the commanders of any multi-jurisdictional major crime investigation is the relevant background (experience and training) in such investigations. Any structure is only as good as the personnel involved. And whether there are minimum requirements established for training and experience or simply guidelines, the most important factor is the expertise – based on documented and quantifiable training and experience – of the people in charge of the investigation.

Recommendation III. The Chicago Crime Commission should provide resources and assistance to suburban municipalities in the development and implementation of the Major Case Squad concept as soon as possible, and work to facilitate the necessary intergovernmental cooperation.


1. Ad Hoc Multi-Agency Task Forces.

This is the status-quo system in which individuals and equipment from various jurisdictions are pieced together based on allegiances, friendships traditions, associations, business and personal relationships, and whatever assistance may be available at any given time. Sometimes multi-jurisdictional or multi-agency groups such as this are suitable and work, but they are unpredictable. No two are ever the same, depending on who the local police chief feels is in a position to help. The main problems with this approach are that the people and technology are often incompatible, the delay in assembling a group and organizing it can hinder the investigation from the outset, and the roles of the assembled investigators are not based on specific training and experience relevant to the crime that needs to be solved.

2. Mutual Aid Agreements.

One step beyond the current ad hoc system is a procedure whereby various jurisdictions agree in advance as to how to assemble a major crime investigation unit, specifying the duties of its personnel and protocols for the conduct of the investigation, including the specific role of the prosecutor’s office. This type of formal agreement was recommended by the State of New York Commission of Investigation, which issued a report in January, 1995, concerning the investigation of the death of Kristie Fischer. That case highlighted many of the same problems experienced by the Palatine investigation. The report noted “the patchwork quilt of law enforcement agencies that provide various arrays of services throughout the county.” (They were dealing with Westchester County which had 43 police jurisdictions — many fewer than the 120+ in Cook County.)

3. Metropolitan Enforcement Groups (MEGS).

MEG units are used in Cook County and elsewhere in Illinois for multi- jurisdictional investigations of major narcotic cases. Personnel are assigned full-time, with cross-jurisdictional credentials and thus able to pursue the complex and intricate drug distribution networks wherever the investigation may take them. This is clearly a workable model for dealing with continuing criminal enterprises, but does not appear to be appropriate for intermittent episodes of violent homicides. This arrangement does, however, represent a step forward in multi-jurisdictional cooperation.

4. Major Case Squads.

This option specifically identifies individuals with relevant training who are drawn from a regional base and organized into a specialized unit. There are two basic variations:
a. County-wide and county-run such as currently is the case in Lake County, Illinois.
b. A cooperative venture managed by an independent board of directors representing the participating law enforcement agencies. This is the arrangement used by the Greater St. Louis Major Case Squad.

This model offers the clear advantage that specific individuals (who routinely work together and whose training and experience are directly on point) are available as soon as possible at the crime scene, without the initial haggling and confusion over roles and responsibilities regarding the investigation. The participating police officials are obligated to call the Squad under pre-determined circumstances (all homicides, for example). Because of the sheer size of Cook County, a regional approach could be utilized.

5. Metropolitan Policing.

This is the most highly organized model, where all policing responsibilities are assumed by a large jurisdictional unit. It naturally raises concerns among local jurisdictions about the sanctity of local control and the loss of responsiveness of local departments. In some cases, like Dade County Florida, the county is the largest Police Department in the jurisdiction and has become the de facto major crime expert. This is not the case in Cook County, where the Sheriff’s Department Police, although larger in number than any individual suburban department, pales in comparison to the size of the City of Chicago’s Police Department. Metropolitan Policing has been proposed many times, as early as more than 30 years ago.

The question inevitably raised is which is the greater risk to the local citizenry, the occasional ineffectiveness and failure of local police functions or the ceding of police authority to a larger governmental unit. Historically, true Metropolitan Policing has been rejected by individual local governments as too great a loss of power and sensitivity to local concerns, even though it may provide an improvement in police services. However, despite entrenched political opposition in the past, it does offer the most cost-effective method of providing suburban residents with sufficient specialized law enforcement resources whenever and wherever they are needed.

nts as too great a loss of power and sensitivity to local concerns, even though it may provide an improvement in police services. However, despite entrenched political opposition in the past, it does offer the most cost-effective method of providing suburban residents with sufficient specialized law enforcement resources whenever and wherever they are needed.

BGA Report —  Part 1 Part 2  Part 3 Part 4)