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Police: Few Abuse Investigations Completed

The Chicago Police Department’s response to a new report on its treatment of complaints of abuse by officers raises more questions than it answers.

While the report from the University of Chicago’s Mandel Legal Clinic reports that just 1 percent of civilian abuse complaints were sustained, CPD spokesperson Monique Bond told the Chicago Tribune that some investigations couldn’t be completed because complainants can’t be reached or don’t follow up to speak with investigators.

She said that of complaints that were investigated to a conclusion, 8 percent were sustained. This matches the national average for sustained complaints.

But it also indicates a remarkably high failure to conduct full investigations. The report examines 10,149 complaints over a five-year period, of which only 124 were sustained. That means only about 1,550 — about 15 percent — were investigated fully.

As Mandel Clinic’s Craig Futterman explained to Newstips last month after acting Superintendent Dana Starks made similar excuses, the failure to reach complainants is one element of “broad systematic deficiencies” in CPD’s investigation of complaints.

According to the report, “Standard CPS police abuse investigations violate virtually every canon of professional investigation.”

Bond referred questions about investigative deficiencies to the new administrator of the recently-created Independent Police Review Authority, Ilana Rosenzweig, who couldn’t say much except that the entire process is under review.

Futterman emphasizes that of the 10,149 complaints, only 19 resulted in significant disciplinary action.The report analyzes CPS data on complaints and says that the results “make clear that Chicago police officers can perpetuate abuse without fear of consequence.”

Some highlights:

The rates of charges that were sustained dropped dramatically in the period under study — from about 5 percent in 1999 to less than half a percentage in 2004.

Half of the excessive force complaints counted by the department as “sustained” found administrative violations but insufficient evidence to sustain the complaint of excessive force itself.

In 85 percent of cases studied, officers subject to complaints were not interviewed but asked to submit written statements. Police and civilian witnesses were rarely interviewed in person.

Investigators frequently ran background checks on complainants; never on officers. Investigators “did not consider the complaint histories of any Chicago police officer involved in the investigation.”

The odds that complaints against officers with a single complaint would be sustained were equal to the odds for sustaining a complaint against an officer with more than ten complaints over the five-year period.

Remarkably, of the 33 officers who had 30 or more complaints over the period — amounting to over 1,000 complaints — only one single complaint resulted in meaningful discipline.

In other words, a complaint against an officer with over 30 complaints in his file was actually half as likely to result in meaningful discipline as a complaint against an average officer, of whom 80 percent had one or less complaints in the period studied.

Police abuse is a group phenomenon — it’s impossible without the accedence of fellow officers — but according to the report, the department makes no effort to find patterns of abuse within units.

The seven Special Operations Service officers indicted last year for robbery, kidnapping, and false arrest would never have been idenitifed by the department’s internal monitoring. They were investigated only when prosecutors noticed that they stopped showing up for court appearances.

The report also looks at the department’s early warning system, which identified only a portion of the officers with large numbers of complaints.

Rates of complaints against officers often went up after they participated in the city’s early-warning intervention program, which may provide cover for criminal activity.

The early-warning programs “are not designed to protect the public” but as a commander explained, “to preserve the department’s investment in these officers….”

“None of the CPD’s current or contemplated early warning programs…incorporate any investigatory or disciplinary component…

“Thus, if CPD were somehow successful in identifying an individual or group of officers who were engaged in a pattern of brutality or corruption, it would not deploy any resources to investigate those patterns, much less anything resembling a sting or undercover operation that has proven effective in federal investigations of police misconduct.

“The CPD would simply offer the suspect brutal or corrupt officer counseling or a class, putting him on notice that he needs to cover his tracks.

“While such interventions may make sense in response to other problematic behavior (e.g., substance abuse, attendance problems, complaints of verbal abuse, etc.), they are inappropriate to address potential patterns of serious abuse or other criminal conduct. It makes little sense to offer counseling to an officer that the CPD has reason to believe is stealing money, engaged in a drug conspiracy, or beating innocent people. These patterns require aggressive, proactive investigations, followed by meaningful action in meritorious cases.”

According to the report, the statistical analysis “provides powerful evidence of deliberate indifference — the affirmative efforts that policymakers must make not to know about individual and group patterns of abuse and the egregious harm caused by such abuse.”

Finally, “the impact of race is impossible to ignore, and hard to discount. The people most impacted by these law enforcement policies in the context of the War on Drugs are African-Americans and other members of minority communities. Thus, all the effort invested in not knowing implies something more than simple indifference to Black and Brown people who live in the inner city.

“Does a different Constitution apply in inner city minority communities?”

Why Names Matter

Frank Main at the Sun Times reports that rogue cop Jerome Finnigan was third on the list of officers with complaints of excessive force, which the city is protecting — even from City Council members — in the name of the officers’ privacy.

This underscores and begins to answer the question Jamie Kalven asked last week: “What would be revealed about the CPD’s systems of supervision, monitoring, and discipline” if we knew Finnegan was at the top of the list?

Kalven pointed out that unit numbers on the list of complaints (individual names were blacked out on copies given aldermen) showed the top four officers, each with 50 or more complaints, were members of the Special Operations Section and that the top ten SOS officers on the list each had 30 or more complaints. “Of these complaints, only three were sustained by CPD investigators. Two resulted in reprimands (among the mildest form of discipline) and one resulted in a 15-day suspension.”

The Sun Times: “Most of the complaints against Finnigan… were deemed by Police Department investigators to be unfounded or not sustained.

“[Federal] prosecutors later found some of those same complaints to be valid and charged Finnigan and six fellow officers, including a sergeant, with crimes such as home invasion, robbery and kidnapping.”

Last week Kalven argued: “If the CPD failed to adequately investigate hundreds of civilian complaints against the central figures in what may well prove the biggest police scandal in Chicago history, then we must confront the fact that the essential issue is not how to improve a flawed system of investigation. It is how to dismantle a complex apparatus of official denial — a regime of not-knowing — in which not only CPD investigations but also [Mara] Georges’ City Law Office are components.”

Judge Orders Release of Police Data

While the City Council considers an ordinance that would increase transparency in the police department’s handling of misconduct complaints, the law department is opposing a legal effort to publicly release data on that very subject.

In a July 2 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Joan Lefkow ruled in favor of a motion by journalist Jamie Kalven to lift the protective order covering police department data on misconduct complaints and investigations produced by the city during a recent lawsuit. The data included a list of 662 officers with over ten complaints over the last five years.

On July 6 the city asked Lefkow for an emergency motion staying her order so it could consider an appeal. The city asked for a stay until July 19 – the day the City Council is scheduled to consider the police reform ordinance; Lefkow granted a stay until Monday, July 16.

[UPDATE – Late on Friday, July 13, the city filed notice to appeal Lefkow’s ruling as well as motions to continue her stay.]

The ordinance proposed by Mayor Daley last month would give the Mayor direct oversight over the Office of Professional Standards, which is charged with investigating misconduct complaints. It would require quarterly public summaries by OPS.

Lefkow’s temporary stay covers the plaintiffs but lifts any restrictions from the city on sharing the data.

At a hearing on the proposed ordinance by the council’s police committee last month, aldermen asked about data from the contested documents, but a law professor testifying about patterns gleaned from the case couldn’t answer many questions due to the protective order.

Lefkow’s latest ruling would allow aldermen to receive the documents from the city, said University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, who was lead attorney in Bond v. Utreras, the lawsuit which unearthed the documents.

According to Futterman, the protective order prevented him from answering council members’ questions about which units and which officers had the highest levels of complaints. “It was information they considered important to their decision about what an effective ordinance would look like,” he noted, but “the city is fighting to keep the data not just from the public but from the City Council.”

“What they risk if they succeed in deep-sixing the data is ending up with a p.r. solution that aggravates institutional denial,” he added.

The documents show “an utterly broken system,” Futterman said. While only 5 percent of officers have over ten complaints (85 percent had between zero and three over five years), the department does little or nothing to track rogue officers, and they are extremely unlikely to be punished for misconduct, he said. Out of over 10,000 complaints filed between 2002 and 2004, only 18 officers received “meaningful discipline,” he said.

Only 89 of the 662 officers with ten or more complaints were flagged for monitoring or supervision, and there were officers with over 50 complaints who hadn’t been identified by the department’s early warning system, he said.

Files of complaints and investigations in the Bond case showed that OPS investigations “violate every canon of professional investigative technique,” failing to secure physical evidence, follow up with independent witnesses or even interview accused officers, who are usually allowed to submit statements instead. Chicago’s rate of sustained complaints is a small fraction of the national average, Futterman said.

Files for five officers in a gang tactical unit who were accused in a federal lawsuit of sexually and physically abusing Diane Bond, a Stateway Gardens resident, over the period of a year showed they had racked up numerous complaints of similar abuse of African-American women in public housing, Futterman said.

The police department and officers settled out of court with Bond in December for a six-figure amount, with no admission of fault.

“The system is so woefully insufficient in supervising, monitoring and disciplining its officers that a policeman with criminal tendencies has virtual impunity,” Kalven said.

He said the costs to the city are “incalculable,” going beyond the millions of tax dollars spend on court settlements to widespread distrust of civil authority in poor neighborhoods. And he believes that any real effort to address the problem will require “a full, public acknowledgement of the harm that has been done.”

Kalven said he will make the documents available at The View From The Ground as soon as the protective order is lifted — “whether that’s Monday at 5 p.m. or in six months” in the event of an appeal by the city.

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