MARC CHASE: Cops bird-brained over turkey raffle location

2013-10-31T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Cops bird-brained over turkey raffle locationMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
October 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 

We hold police to higher standards of ethics and conduct for good reason. They carry guns, are trained to make life-and-death decisions and are expected to exercise good judgment in the process.

This higher standard doesn't dissipate when officers are participating in activities of their fraternal groups. Image is everything, something the Schererville Fraternal Order of Police forgot recently when selecting a site for its annual turkey raffle.

Schererville residents should be crying -- well -- fowl.

The fraternity of Schererville cops was all set to stage the raffle at Spike's Lakeside Inn 2 -- the same business stormed by Indiana State Excise Police earlier this year in an alleged illegal Super Bowl gambling raid.

What were police thinking when making this decision -- presumably with full knowledge of the bar's background in the publicized February gambling raid?

At the time, the bar was cited with three violations of the state's Alcoholic Beverage Code: maintaining a public nuisance, failing to maintain good character and a violation of gaming endorsement. The violations involved about 400 people and more than $200,000 in illegal gambling proceeds, excise police said earlier this year.

The excise police agency did not return calls this week seeking comment on the disposition of the case and investigation that ensued. Spike's attorney, Paul Stracci, confirmed Wednesday the civil code violations are pending before the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, though no criminal charges have been filed in the mattter.

Schererville police Officer Steve Burton, president of the local fraternal order, said the original decision to have the November raffle at Spike's was based on tradition. The bar has hosted the raffle for the past 24 years, he said.

The raid earlier this year and an investigation into gambling allegations should have prompted a break with tradition.

But the Schererville FOP went ahead with the decision, much to the chagrin of some officers in its ranks who didn't want that kind of association. The FOP printed and hung posters advertising Spike's as the host of the fundraiser.

What happened next is embarrassing.

Turkey raffles are considered gambling activities, requiring the blessing of the Indiana Gaming Commission via permit. So the FOP applied for its permit to hold the raffle at Spike's.

But the commission denied the permit at that location, Burton acknowledged.

Perhaps Gaming Commission officials realized what evaded the FOP, even if commission officials won't say it directly. When I contacted the commission Wednesday, it confirmed talks are ongoing with the FOP for a new location.

So the FOP is looking for another site at which to host its raffle, which Burton says raises $3,000 to $5,000 every year to cover the group's insurance.

That search should have occurred at the beginning. Northwest Indiana is nothing if not home to banquet halls and meeting sites galore, including a brand new $2.3 million Schererville Community Center.

In the future, the FOP should try to look more like a fraternity of upstanding cops rather than a good old boys' poker club.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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