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Daley and police reform

Mayor Daley told the Sun-Times that the increase in killings is attributable to police fears of civilian complaints and media coverage of police misconduct.

“It’s preposterous,” said journalist and activist Jamie Kalven.  “It’s almost hallucinatory — it’s Alice in Wonderland.”

For one thing, the kind of coverage the Mayor complains about — aside from what he terms “beating up police” by airing video of a drunken off-duty officer beating up a woman bartender — is nearly impossible.

Police officers are “always afraid of beefs because, once they get a beef, you write about it,” Daley told Fran Spielman, reciting an imaginary press account: “‘He has 25 C.R. numbers [complaints registered], all unfounded.’ You say, ‘Why? This fella must be a problem’. And you find out most of them are gangbangers and dope dealers [who] filed charges. And they didn’t show up in court or administrative hearings.”

But no one’s informed when a complaint is filed against a particular officer.

Those kinds of numbers are only available in the course of criminal trials and other legal proceedings against rogue police officers — most often after prosecutors have decided “this fella must be a problem” — as Kalven points out.  He’s sued the city for documents on police misconduct including a list of officers with over ten complaints.  In that case, the city has appealed a federal court order to release the documents; a hearing before an appeals court panel took place last month.

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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.”

City Denies Police Data to City Council

“In seeking a stay from the Seventh Circuit [of Judge Joan Lefkow’s order unsealing a list of police officers with the most excessive force complaints], the City emphasized that it would, in keeping with Judge Lekfow’s ruling, make the documents available to any aldermen who asked for them” Jamie Kalven comments at View From The Ground on the story broken in the Tribune today.

“Having been granted the stay, [City Counsel Mara] Georges now tells aldermen who request the documents that the City cannot provide them because of the stay.”

Kalven is the independent journalist who filed the motion initially requesting public disclosure of the documents, which Lefkow granted. The argument about alermanic access came as the City Council was considering reform of the Office of Professional Standards in July (see Newstips: Judge Orders Release of Police Data).

“Withholding the documents on the basis of this transparently specious argument is an affront to the First Amendment—-and to members of the City Council,” Kalven goes on. “They should insist on their right to this information.

“A great deal is at stake. Circumstances have combined to create an historic opportunity for police reform in Chicago. Once the disputed documents are released, they will interact with information already in the public domain in ways that will deepen our understanding of patterns of police abuse and also of the systemic failures of supervision, monitoring, and discipline that have allowed abusive officers to operate for years with impunity.

“Consider, for example, the ever-expanding Special Operations Section case. Six SOS officers have been indicted on an array of charges that include corruption, kidnapping, and robbery. They stand accused, in effect, of having operated a large-scale criminal enterprise out of their unit. A number of other SOS officers have been granted immunity in exchange for their testimony. The trial has not yet begun, yet the damage continues to mount. The state’s attorney’s office has dropped more than a hundred pending felony cases, because they were contaminated by one or another of the defendants. A large number of civil cases will inevitably be brought against the City. The U.S. Attorney’s office is undertaking its own investigation. Finally, last week Officer Jerome Finnegan, the alleged ringleader of the SOS racketeering operation, was arrested by federal agents for plotting the murder-for-hire of a former SOS officer who had agreed to testify against him and his co-defendants.

“Although we do not yet know the full dimensions of the SOS scandal, it is clear that the monetary and institutional costs to the City will be vast. Against this background, what might we learn from the list of officers who have amassed the most civilian complaints over a five year period?…

“What would be revealed about the CPD’s systems of supervision, monitoring, and discipline, if we definitively knew that Finnegan and his co-defendants are at or near the top of the list?”

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