Welcome to the Deuce’; 'Man, we are the real police'; 'You’ve fought long enough'; 'All of us are suffering'

Rob Kaiser’s

Chicago Tribune stories

Rob Kaiser’s Chicago Tribune stories


Partners in peril


Welcome to the Deuce’; 'Man, we are the real police'; 'You’ve fought long enough'; 'All of us are suffering'

Taking America's pulse inside Sears Tower

World upside down; The reckoning


Postcard-perfect inns of past still have a spot in America

Confederate flag still can draw blood

Killings steal rural innocence

On a frigid dawn, a baby is found dead at a church’s front door

Commuter train wreck still haunts a survivor

Revolution, revelry and rags

Sad, short and perplexing life of a whiz kid

Gone but not forgotten

Losing Estelle

His blood runs coal

Town’s focus on ball, not Sept. 11

The homecoming of Pfc. Lynch

Rites honor something found in death of student

God’s soldier works the gang battlefield

‘End of the road’ gets taste of fear

Anti-terror work revitalizes Los Alamos

Stylish woman goes in style

A vacancy, and a void, on Main Street

Memorial Day opens wounds

Sailors recall WWII nightmare

Farmers reap politics as well as wheat

Sept. 11 emotions pour out anew

In showstorm’s wake, city’s cold heart melts

Accounting’s bloodhounds in demand

Adieu, adieu Renoir

Muslims find welcoming home on the range

A grim end to a golden life

Angel won’t let slain boy be forgotten

The bard of the blues

The coming of the anti-Berkeley

With Big John, comfortable rock not a hard place

Children take charge in Bud Billiken parade

A childhood spent waiting

Mary Cassatt makes a new impression

At school’s assembly, tragedy hits home

Shifting away from summer and back into the grind

For coal plant workers, rewards come with risks

God was this con-artist’s cover

Shooting provides another grim reminder

Mom wrestles with patriotism, grief

To us, a Grabowski in Saints clothing

Doctor follows higher calling all the way to Africa

Grandfather’s hand lifts boy from urban tragedy

Musician took twisted road to FBI’s ‘most wanted’ list

Defense: Evidence coerced in cop’s death

Back in the air

Town waits, prays for a lost Marine

No family but many tears for stillborn

Neighbors relieved Gacy dig is over

Pressures of college life can be deadly

A hero cop’s final hours

High-speed train passes rail test

After 25 years in U.S., Hmong still feel isolated

Community denounces violence, mourns teen

Illiniwek controversy gets personal

Indiana steel generations see way of life melt away

Following their dream to Chicago

Blazing a trail through Lost Chicago

Drum still beating for men’s movement

Ceriale case was trial by fire

Mullen faces man who shot, paralyzed him

Back porches face new scrutiny

A New Year’s mystery deepens

Veterans breathe life into war tales

Statue still closed to visitors

Bearing witness, saying goodbye

‘We are not free’

Undercurrent of unease on the Mississippi

Time-lapse torment

A dirty job, but they do it

Mystery gone, but not disbelief

One family rejoices in Thanksgiving homecoming

Teen girl’s slaying entangled in politics

For down-home voter appeal, find a good nickname

Parents in forefront of this graduation

In moment of fury, family is shattered

Small town looking at art for economics’ sake

Small Southern town feeling the absence of 150

City tries to pump up its crews down under

Shredding industry refuses to be trashed

A fuller view of a genius painter

School tries to soften world’s hard edges

Book spurs gullible with image of largesse

Developers give up on cemetery homes

Chicago’s cops must learn fast during slow times

Reward dispute keeps tragedy alive

Marines return to open arms

Patriotism rises above all else

Chicago’s Picasso hits the Big Three-Oh

For Mullen, it’s peace at last

Tiny Muddy resists move to stamp out town’s post office

More visitors heed the call of patriotism

City of New Orelans rolls on despite tragedy

Elegy for Flight 5191

Straight and smooth

Sgt. McDonald’s long ride home

Officers gathered cash, then his thoughts

Of safe-deposit boxes and secrets

The man in the wheelchair

Inertia and the Storm 5024

Imagine that: kids writing

Partners in peril

On graduation day, Michael ceriale and Joe Ferenzi

realized their dream of becoming police officers.

But their partnership would not last.


Part 1


Two young men, Michael Ceriale and Joe Ferenzi, met in the Police Academy, became friends and partners, then saw their lives change forever one fateful night on patrol in the 2nd District--the Deuce. This is their story, reconstructed from interviews and records.

By Robert L. Kaiser

Tribune Staff Writer

They crouched among gnarled trees in the dark, their eyes trained on the entrance of 4101 S. Federal St., a tattered high-rise in the Robert Taylor Homes.

The expressway moaned with traffic.

Not so long ago, Chicago Police Officers Joe Ferenzi and Mike Ceriale sat in assigned seats together at the Police Academy. Now they hid among litter, dead leaves and discarded tires, trying to observe a drug operation run by the Gangster Disciples street gang.

Ferenzi and Ceriale were rookies doing the dicey work of plainclothes cops, making a foray into drug surveillance with little training to guide them. At the academy they had learned how to handcuff suspects and how to use commas when writing reports, they had sweated together through pushups in the summer heat, and they had been fitted one autumn afternoon for bulletproof vests.

"One of you will be involved in a shooting," an instructor had told them."Keep in mind it's not if, it's when."

But nobody had taught them how to hide on Chicago's most dangerous streets. Less than a year after graduating from the academy--a place so structured that cadets are supposed to stay to the right in the hallways--Ferenzi and Ceriale were on their own for a night, working the midnight shift, free to roam and improvise with virtually no supervision.

Hours after their shift had started, they headed for one of the city's more violent addresses, hoping to make their night with an impressive arrest. But nothing in their training had prepared them for what was to come.

"On them popsicles!" one of the young men standing near the breezeway of 4101 was overheard shouting, meaning: Get the guns, intruders have been spotted.

"I think they made us," Ceriale said calmly.

"What do you mean?" Ferenzi said.

"The guy in the orange jersey. He's pointing this way."

Ferenzi looked.

"The guy in the No. 5 jersey?"


There was a flash and a hiss.

Ferenzi thought of fireworks.

Cops choose partners like themselves. It's an informal process that often begins with the simple request to ride in the same car. Generally the department allows officers to select their own partners with little consideration to balancing youth and experience or strengths and weaknesses.

Non-smokers usually ride with those who won't make the car reek of cigarettes. A vegetarian works with somebody whose idea of a great meal isn't a hot dog at Peppe's.

Sometimes the bond goes way back. When they were 5 years old, Chicago Police Officers John Dougherty and John Knight stood shoulder-to-shoulder for a kindergarten photo. Raised half a block from each other and educated at the same grade school, dirtied by the same baseball fields and stained by the same sandlots, blessed at the same church and hopeless over the same girls, the two grew up to ride together in the same police car.

So close were Dougherty and Knight that they scheduled the same days off and took vacations together so they wouldn't have to work with anybody else. Dougherty's six-year partnership with Knight ended when Dougherty was promoted to gang specialist. A few weeks later, on Jan. 9, 1999, Knight was killed in a shootout as he was trying to question a man during a traffic stop.

Ferenzi and Ceriale grew up strangers, but they hailed from parallel worlds. Both were die-hard Sox fans. Both fished the waters of the same small town in Wisconsin. Both were 26.

Rookie partners grow closer as they learn together on the job. They usually must staff the least-wanted shifts--the ones abdicated by veteran cops who use seniority to work day shifts in less risky neighborhoods.

It is a blessing and a curse that Chicago's toughest streets and most treacherous shifts belong to its greenest police officers. Many cops fresh out of academy are careful and deliberate. Others, out of eagerness, tenacity and idealism, are inclined to take risks, to throw their lives on the line for a good traffic stop or drug arrest.

Before becoming police officers, neither Ferenzi nor Ceriale had been familiar with violence--except what they saw on television. Neither was of the old breed of cop who had seen combat on a battlefield before confronting gunfire on the streets. Both had grown up relatively sheltered, born into a generation with no wars to fight and raised in close-knit, white-ethnic families bound up in the seemingly old-fashioned values of faith and commitment, diligence and holiday celebrations.

Ceriale, whose parents were divorced before he started school, lived with his father on the Northwest Side for four years while attending Gordon Tech, a Catholic high school. The boy played football, basketball and baseball. He wrestled. He grew into a big, strapping kid, bigger than either of his parents.

He attended Harper College, in suburban Palatine, in the fall of 1990. He took some criminology courses but did not get a degree. He worked as a car salesman and drove a Budweiser beer truck.

In 1993 Ceriale took the test to become a Chicago police officer. While he waited for his name to come up on the waiting list for a police job, he tended bar at Marge's Pub, an Old Town neighborhood tavern.

When his name came up in the spring of 1997, he quit bartending. His mother didn't relish the thought of her only child being a cop. But it was all Ceriale ever really wanted to do, his father said.

Ferenzi grew up in suburban Melrose Park, where he would live with his parents and sister until becoming a police officer. Police work ran in his family. Two uncles were in the department when he was growing up. One of them--veteran Calumet Area Detective John McCann--had a grandfather he never met; Chicago Police Officer William McCann had been killed in 1930 responding to a burglary.

By the time Ferenzi graduated from Holy Cross High School, his boyhood dream of becoming a cop had faded. He enrolled at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he began working toward a degree in marketing. He thought he would develop advertising campaigns for a living but then settled into a job as a financial planner.

But when Ferenzi heard some friends talking about taking the Police Department test, his interest was rekindled. He decided to sign up too.

About 25,000 men and women took the three-hour exam in 1993. Ferenzi was one of about 8,000 who made the grade, and his name was put on a list of "well-qualified" candidates to be contacted at random as jobs opened up.

Ferenzi liked the idea of getting away from a desk. He wanted action, unpredictability. He also liked the thought of helping people, protecting others as he would his own family, getting violent criminals off the streets.

It would mean a slight pay cut from his job at Prudential Financial Planning Services, down to $33,522 a year. But when the call came he jumped at the opportunity. He hadn't found work developing ad campaigns. And he didn't like financial planning as much as he had expected; it was all too low-key. Ferenzi figured he had to give police work a try.

On May 5, 1997, Ferenzi walked to the end of a long hallway in the Police Academy and sat down in Room 205. It was a quiet place with brown carpet and white walls. Ferenzi, short and boyish, sat behind Ceriale, peering around the tall, broad-shouldered man 7 inches taller than he. With his blue eyes, square jaw and Hollywood smile, Ceriale looked as though he had been sent to the academy by Central Casting.

On the front wall of the room was a blackboard. On the back, a plaque memorializing Chicago Police Officer Daniel Doffyn, a rookie killed in the line of duty in 1995. Most classrooms at the academy have at least one plaque honoring a decorated officer--or one who was killed in the line of duty.

Police academy is a six-month boot camp carried out in the shadow of the city skyline on the Near West Side. Instructors don't necessarily have formal teaching experience, though many do.

The khaki-clad cadets crammed into wraparound desks sat ramrod-straight. In "Patrol Procedures" they learned the 10 deadly errors of police work, chief among them, poor search, or worse yet, no search. There's even a term for valuing nerve over self-preservation: tombstone courage.

Ferenzi and Ceriale each filled a notebook with practice reports they had been required to write. A green sheet listed commonly misspelled words--from "abate" to "zigzag." They received 10 hours of instruction in crisis intervention, seven in crimes against persons, four in crimes against property, four in police morality, three in crimes in progress, and two in fingerprinting.

They learned a little about making a drug bust, how one suspect usually holds the dope while another holds the money.

And they received three hours on surveillance. That lesson is supposed to continue on the job or, for those who become narcotics officers, in follow-up classes taken after graduation. So brief was the introduction that Ferenzi later would think back to his academy days and be unable to recall that they had touched on the subject at all.

It was a crisp day in autumn when they were fitted for their bulletproof vests. Company representatives came bearing tape measures--as if, Ferenzi thought, they were outfitting the cadets for tuxedos.

A man wrapped a tape measure around Ceriale's chest and stomach. He stretched a tape measure down Ceriale from shoulder to belt. Each time, the man blurted out the measurement to a woman with a notepad, who wrote the numbers down.

Ferenzi opted for an upgrade from the standard city-issued model--made by Second Chance Body Armor Inc. A protective vest is about the only piece of equipment a police officer doesn't have to buy for himself. Ferenzi decided to pay an extra $500 from his own pocket for a thicker model with a special titanium "trauma plate" to better absorb the impact of a bullet.

Ceriale settled for the standard model.

They passed Friday nights after academy at Ira's, a dingy police bar in the 1100 block of West Madison Street.

Ira's is marked by an Old Style Beer sign out front, a 50-cents-a-game pool table lit by a Budweiser lamp and bumper stickers on the wall that read, "Proud to be a Union Sheet Metal Worker," and, "If You Love Your Freedom, Thank a Vet." A Confederate flag hangs inconspicuously on the wall near the back door. A life-size stuffed pig wears a Chicago Police cap and has a gun strapped to its right-front leg.

Though the bar doesn't serve breakfast, it opens at 7 a.m., in part to accommodate cops on every shift. Most of the patrons are white men, and they come in all ages, shapes, sizes and ranks, talking, laughing, cursing and draining beer after beer and leaving the empty bottles to stand in mute congregation on the heavy wooden tables.

At Ira's, Ferenzi and Ceriale considered their days in the academy as a first step to becoming the cops they wanted to be: Tough but fair. Compassionate but never naive. They dreamed of good homicides--where the body still was warm and the trail still was hot and the killer might be just around the corner. Arrests like that get awards.

Sometimes, like when they were force-fed elementary grammar, they thought they were wasting their time at the academy. It was easier to pay attention when they were learning the difference between cocaine and heroin, between the drug dealers on the street and the money handlers nearby.

Graduation, at Navy Pier, came on a bright fall day in October 1997. Someone snapped a picture of them, both beaming, Ferenzi looking over Ceriale's shoulder.

Supt. Matt Rodriguez spoke, then the newly sworn officers pinned the badges onto each other's formal blue jackets. Ferenzi got Star No. 11967, Ceriale, No. 17429.

They were detailed to different areas of the city to serve out their obligatory probationary periods. Ceriale went to the 13th District, near where he grew up in Ukrainian Village, and was disappointed there wasn't more to do. Ferenzi went to the 9th, a diverse district that included Comiskey Park, and had as much as he could handle.

Six months later, Ferenzi and Ceriale learned that they had both been assigned to the 2nd District, also known as Wentworth but nicknamed the Deuce. They would be transferred there in April.

Every rookie had heard about the Deuce, a notorious tangle of housing projects, vacant lots and squat, faded businesses with bars on the doors. It has one of the highest crime rates in the city. Through April this year, Wentworth had 13 homicides, which was third among Chicago's 25 districts; 41 sexual assaults; and 363 robberies.

Ferenzi was nervous, but he was also excited. He wrote a memo asking to work midnights so he and Ceriale could share the same shift--one that would put them under the command of Lt. Michael Byrne, a boss they had heard good things about in the academy.

They quickly made an impression on other officers in the Wentworth District. Lt. Virginia Drozd, a watch commander, noticed how quiet and polite Ceriale was. He always sat or stood near the wall farthest from the door in roll call--near the back corner of the big, stark-white room. He was laid-back and easygoing, with the people skills of a seasoned bartender.

By contrast Ferenzi was intense and fidgety and sometimes seemed lost inside himself. He rocked in his chair. He swung his feet.

Though Ceriale was a few months younger than Ferenzi, most thought he was older. But it was obvious they had one important trait in common: Both were eager and craved all the perverse action the Wentworth District had to offer.

Officer Gerrardo Teneyuque, who had been in the department a year and a half, met Ferenzi in roll call on the rookie's first day in the district: April 30, 1998. They rode together that night.

Two hours and six minutes into the shift, Ferenzi got a taste of Wentworth on his inaugural visit to the red brick, 16-story high-rise at 4101 S. Federal St.

Responding in uniform to a domestic disturbance at about 1:30 a.m., Ferenzi and Teneyuque climbed the steps to the sixth floor, where they could hear people screaming in an apartment. Ferenzi, inside a housing project for the first time, stood speechless. Cockroaches skittered across the walls.

A woman accused a man of beating her. She signed a complaint and he was charged with battery. Down at the car, Ferenzi opened the back door for Teneyuque so he could usher the suspect into the back seat. Suddenly there were two quick pops and the cacophony of shattering glass as the rear window of the squad car blew apart.

"They're shooting at us," Teneyuque shouted.

Ferenzi felt his heart lurch.

He yanked open the front door and dived for cover, landing inside on his stomach, his 5-foot-7-inch frame stretched full-length across the front seat.

For a second the waffled bottoms of Ferenzi's shiny new police boots waved at the building. Then he unlocked the driver's door, shoved it open and squirmed, tumbling out the far side of the car.

Nobody had been hit.

Ferenzi's heart raced. He looked at his watch. Two hours into his first shift. Maybe I could transfer, he thought.

"Welcome to the Deuce," Drozd greeted Ferenzi when he returned to the station house.

"Look at you," Ferenzi recalled Ceriale telling him. "You can't stay out of trouble, can you?"

Despite the risks, the rookies began to embrace their assignment to the Deuce. What better place to gain experience fast?

During Ferenzi's third day on the job, he was assigned to work with Ceriale, their first shift working together. He and his partner rolled to a stop at a red light, Ferenzi behind the wheel. It was early on a Sunday, about 6 a.m. New light bathed the projects.

Facing south, a single car in front of them, Ferenzi and Ceriale heard the squeal of brakes and looked across the intersection. A car headed north had skidded to a stop at the red light.

When the light changed and Ferenzi drove past the car, he shouted out. The driver was sitting in the passenger seat--so he could drive with the Club still attached to the steering wheel of the stolen car.

Ferenzi leaned into a U-turn. The driver of the stolen car stepped on the gas, smashed into a building, then got out and ran.

Ceriale bolted after him.

Ferenzi picked up the radio.

And froze.

How could he call for help? The dispatcher would ask for their location. Ferenzi, in his third day patrolling the Wentworth District, didn't have a clue where he was. Desperately he craned his neck in search of a street sign.

There! Rhodes Avenue.

By the time help arrived none was needed, Ceriale had chased the suspect through a motel lobby, plucked him off a fence and put him in handcuffs. Breathing hard but smiling, he sauntered toward Ferenzi, car thief in tow.

Riding together two or three shifts a week, the rookies began making a name for themselves. Returning to 4101 S. Federal helped. Ferenzi and Ceriale knew that all manner of arrests were there for the making, many with surprising ease, and Ferenzi revisited the high-rise dozens of times by his own estimate, mostly for radio calls by the dispatcher, but sometimes on his own.

At 4101 an enterprising rookie could write his own ticket. There was crime enough to go around, for the Chicago Housing Authority cops, the city's public housing unit, and rank-and-file police. An activity sheet filled with arrests meant promotions--conviction rates didn't matter. Ambitious from the start, Ferenzi and Ceriale were following the unwritten code of the department: They were getting noticed by the bosses, they were working the most demanding shifts and they were racking up arrests. Maybe someday those arrests would add up to something. They had their sights set on detective. To Ferenzi, that was what being a police officer was all about. No more responding to the same domestic call day after day. You're solving a puzzle. You're finally putting criminals away.

After a brief stint working days with a different partner, Ceriale switched back to midnights. It's a shift dominated by rookies. Of the more than 60 cops now working midnights in the Wentworth District, only six have more than 10 years of experience. Twenty have more than five years. The rest--more than half--have fewer than two.

Ferenzi and Ceriale grabbed at the chance to work in plain clothes, driving around in what is called a CD, or civilian dress car. In a CD car, you have to respond to felonies in progress--shootings, robberies, rapes. But you don't have to chase burglar alarms or worry about lots of routine paperwork. It's good experience, a great way to make arrests and sample the life of a tactical or narcotics officer. You set your own pace, follow your own instincts.

In Wentworth you had to have a year of experience to work a CD car. But the year included six months in the academy and six months probation. By Aug. 13, 1998, Ferenzi had done CD duty about ten times, three or four of them with Ceriale. That night Ferenzi had ducked into Byrne's office, asking the lieutenant for a CD car on the following night.

Byrne had the schedule in front of him. He liked Ferenzi and Ceriale--the "Dago car," he called them--liked their ambition and ability, which in his view made up for their lack of experience and training. Sending them into the South Side in an unmarked car would be reward for good work.

Byrne said if a car was available that would be fine.

"You guys gonna get some arrests?" Byrne asked.

Ferenzi grinned. Driving an unmarked Ford with your partner 10 months out of the academy: What could beat that?

At 3 a.m. Ferenzi returned to the station house to see if the schedule had been posted. It was pressed under clear plastic on the counter.


M. Ceriale

J. Ferenzi

Chicago Tribune, Sunday, August 15, 1999

Partners in peril


Part 2


Rookie partners Michael Ceriale and Joe Ferenzi roamed the night in an unmarked car, eager to make an arrest and a reputation in the notorious 2nd District--the Deuce. Nothing would turn out as they had planned.

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