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Illinois Police & Sheriff's News

Buono Fortuna!
The Italian American Police Assn.
-- 3 Decades of Services

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IPSN Newspaper, April 28, 1997

Italian-Americans, as much as any other European ethnic group who immigrated to the U.S. shores seeking a better way of life, and refuge from the injustices of the past, have long felt the sting of prejudice from other groups also seeking a new way of life in the dream called America.

Ralph DeBartolo, President of the Italian-American Police Association estimates that there were at least 2,200 Chicago Police officers of Italian heritage working in the department at the time his organization was founded in 1963. The Italians, though strong in number, were poorly represented within the department's hierarchy.

Though he is reluctant to point the finger at specific groups or individuals, DeBartolo admits that the decision to form a police association comprised of Italian-American law enforcement officers had everything to do with addressing the promotional inadequacies within the department, and the negative stereotypes of hard-working Italian-Americans as "Mafiosi." Three Chicago police officers - Ed Louis, his brother Sam, who was assigned to Bill Hanhardt's elite burglary unit back in the 1960s, and Detective Paul Tanzillo gathered the troops and called the first meeting of the Italian-American Police Association to order to address the grievances specific to their heritage.

Thirteen prospective members showed up. A constitution and set of by-laws were drafted. It was an encouraging beginning.

"At our very first meeting an Italian-American alderman who shall go unnamed was sent to us by Mayor Richard J. Daley," DeBartolo recalls. "He said to us: 'Don't make any waves.' We told the alderman to go back and tell the Mayor that we would not listen to that kind of remark."

DeBartolo believes that officers of Italian descent were shut out of the mainstream in those days for self-serving political reasons - to reserve the key appointive offices within the department for the friends of Daley and his legendary Chicago "machine."

That situation corrected itself over a period of time, but the Italian-American Police Association has endured as a fraternal and civic organization promoting social and cultural ties amongst law enforcement officers from all over Northeast Illinois. According to DeBartolo, a retired Chicago Police officer who is now attached to the Cook County Sheriff's civil process unit in Skokie, the organization is flourishing once again.

In its heyday thirty years ago, I.A. P.A.'s ranks swelled to 800. But like the other ethnic societies within law enforcement that thrived for years only to experience contraction pains, there had been a corresponding drop-off in membership for the usual stated reasons: apathy among younger police officers, changing attitudes toward a distant European culture that becomes more and more remote as time goes by, and competition from other groups and organizations.

Enrollment in the Italian-American Police Association slipped below 200 in 1992 just before DeBartolo took over the reins of leadership. There were concerns that the organization had lost its vitality - and was no longer relevant; a casualty of the changing times. "I didn't want to see this go down," DeBartolo states with conviction. "My priority as president was geared toward membership drives - imparting the message to our younger officers all that we stand for, and that is, where there is unity, there is strength."

Membership chairman Robert Notini (who holds the rank of Inspector in the Cook County Sheriff's Office) targeted the young recruits coming out of the Training Academy, and through an aggressive word-of-mouth campaign the I.A.P.A. slowly and methodically increased its membership over the next several years. Today, there are 500 members representing all law enforcement jurisdictions. Recently thirty officers from the Niles P.D. joined the organization. Things are looking up.

The annual November Dinner Dance is the keynote event. The officer had its origins at the very beginnings of the organization. "The first year it was at the Conrad Hilton Hotel and 800 people showed up," DeBartolo recalls. "We booked the top entertainment acts of the day to entertain - Jimmy Durante, Jerry Vale, Louie Prima and Keely Smith. We almost had Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin one year - but they backed out at the last minute."

Then as interest started to wane and membership dropped off, the Dinner Dance was curtailed to an every-other-year affair. But with the remarkable resurgence of interest in I.A.P.A. activities in the last two years, the banquet is once again an annual event.

Last year, 520 people crowded into Manzo's Banquet Hall to pay their respects to automobile dealer Nick Celozzi, the 1996 I.A.P.A. Man of the Year. Some of the past recipients of this distinguished award include sports commentator Mark Giangreco and former Chicago Police officer-turned movie star Dennis Farina.

Tony Cuttone, a Cook County Police officer and I.A.P.A. board member, oversaw the highly successful event as dinner chairman.

In addition to the civilian award, I.A.P.A. honors members of the law enforcement community who have distinguished themselves in the line of duty. Officer Ricardo Mancha of the Chicago Police Department Special Operations Section was cited for heroism in a dangerous encounter with a street gang member.

The family of the late Anthony Samfay, a fallen comrade from the Kankakee Police Department, was introduced and honored at the 1996 affair with a courageous little boy named Brandon Bryan who is fighting the ravages of illness caused by an impaired immune system. Three years ago I.A.P.A. President Ralph DeBartolo conceived the idea of awarding an honorary membership and scholarship money to a child in desperate need. Seven-year-old Cody Trothaupt a leukemia victim, was the first youngster chosen in 1995. Brandon was the second.

DeBartolo's 6-year-old grandson Brett has struck a friendship with Brandon, whose daily existence is scarred by continuing health miseries. But the lad is resilient and he says that police officers are his very favorite people.

The 1997 recipient comes from Children's Memorial Hospital, and will sit on the dais alongside Dominick DiFrisco, chosen as the next civilian Man of the Year. Mr. DeFrisco is a Senior Vice President and Director of Government Relations for Burson-Marstellar . He has faithfully served the organization as emcee for many more Dinner Dances than he can probably remember. Chicago Police Officer Jim Mullen, who was shot in the line of duty will be honored as the 1997 Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.

Giving something back to the community is a notion this organization takes very seriously. Helping others is a major focus. For 33-years I.A.P.A. has sponsored an annual picnic to benefit mentally handicapped youngsters. Members volunteer their time once a year entertaining the children residing at the Tinley Park State Mental Hospital.

I.A.P.A. members march in the annual Columbus Day Parade downtown, and the board schedules nine membership meetings throughout the year. John Sofere from the Chicago Police Department and Carlo Carotta of the Skokie P.D. line up the speakers and plan the program. It's a labor of love for all involved, but one that each and everyone of the 21 board members is committed to seeing through.

"Our attendance at the monthly meetings is quite large - it ranges from 60-80 members for any given program," explains President DeBartolo.

DeBartolo would like to see the membership top out at 800 before he steps down in the next year. That has been the goal of this veteran street cop since taking over as president five years ago.

Ralph is understandably proud of his I.A.P.A. accomplishments, and is still very close to his ethnic heritage. He grew up in the old Italian quarter near Taylor Street and Damen Avenue at a time when the Italians were still the dominant group along the Near West Side corridor. His mother emigrated from Calabria, Italy in 1929, and his dad was a neighborhood businessman.

DeBartolo took the police exam in 1956 with his best friend John Duffy who served in the Chicago P.D. for many years. His first taste of serious police work came less than a year later when the remains of teenager Judith Mae Anderson were found floating in oil drums off of Montrose Harbor in Lake Michigan. The Anderson case headlined the Chicago newspapers for days. It was a horrific case for the times that stirred the community, but it was never resolved. DeBartolo vividly recalls the grueling interrogation process as he roamed from building to building questioning residents whose apartment units faced the lake about the gruesome murder.

Later on he was sent to Wood Street where he worked vice under Commander James Kosefelt. "Now there was a hell of a good commander. I learned a lot about police work from Kosefelt," he recalls. Then as now, Wood Street was a tough district. There were drugs, and gambling, and hookers and corruption but not to the extent we see now.

DeBartolo does not mince words as he ponders what is going on these days in the Austin District. "Austin...it may be the new Summerdale," he adds. "But when a cop takes drug money he is the scum of the department and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent. We tell our members never to cross the line - and if they do, we also tell them not to bother calling us - call a lawyer instead."

After Wood Street, DeBartolo was transferred into the Loop traffic division - a three year assignment that ended in 1971 when he was added to the bodyguard detail protecting Edward Kelleher, a Cook County medical director whose task was to interview the city's most dangerous felons and draw up a psychological profile. DeBartolo did this for 18 years, and then went over to the Cook County Sheriff as a process server.

Ralph admits there are fewer challenges today than five years ago when he took over as president of this fine association. Membership is up and he has re-shaped the Board of Directors by bringing in younger, more aggressive officers.

The issues of concern thirty-five-years ago have been properly addressed. "From our standpoint, unity within the Chicago P.D. has been achieved," he adds. "There should be no ethnic prejudice - of any kind. There was a lot of it back then among some of the old timers. But you just don't see that now."

*****

To join the Italian-American Police Association, call or write to them at 6351 W. Montrose Avenue, Chicago, IL 60634-1563, or call (312) 370-5176. Dues are just $25.00 a year and that includes a $1,000 life insurance policy, free pizza, pop, and coffee at the monthly meetings and a window sticker and I.D. card.


 

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