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Police Abuse/Early Warning System
Norm Stamper, retired Seattle police chief, admits to having repeatedly used excessive force in response to suspected perpetrators. The shame of it, he says, and the “visceral memories of [those] incidents,” led him to explore why certain cops engage in such brutal behavior and some don't. “Law enforcement doesn't pick bad apples,” he says, “it makes them, and not through academy training.” He participated in illegal activities, he goes on to explain, “because other cops I'd come to admire did it; and because I thought I could get away with it... Which I did—until a principled prosecutor slapped me upside the head and demanded to know whether the U.S. Constitution meant anything to me.” He concludes by saying: “It comes down to this. Real cops, those with a conscience, those who honor the law, must step up and take control of the cop culture.”1
Although true, it is not the individual but the institution that must change police culture, and the Chicago Police Department has overlooked misbehavior for a long time.
Professor Craig Futterman, founder of the Civil Rights Police Accountability Project of the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic at the Chicago Law School, charges that "the City has a policy and practice of failing to adequately supervise, monitor, discipline, and otherwise control its police officers."2
When Futterman released his report in late 2007, his intent was to expose the Chicago Police Department's “broken system.” He detailed an institution with an almost complete lack of accountability in which excessive force complaints were 94 percent less likely to be sustained than they were in other large municipal police departments3.
The release of Futterman’s report coupled with mounting evidence of the corruption of SOS officers, incendiary videos of extreme (and seemingly unfounded) violence by Chicago police, and a desire to put the city's best face forward for the Olympic bid, prompted Chicago to push for reform.
One question, however, still lingers: How much of the proposed reform will result in actual change, and how much is simply window dressing?
Futterman's report emphasized that most Chicago police are good officers. The majority receives one or no complaints throughout the bulk of their careers, and most of the complaints received by the department at the time of the study were targeted at a little less than 5 percent of the force.4 But Futterman's data also showed that “a repeater [could] be 99.8% confidant that no meaningful discipline [would] result from being charged with the abuse of a civilian... the probability is just .02% that reported abuse will lead to meaningful discipline of an officer who has earned eleven or more abuse complaints in the last five years.”5 Futterman defines “meaningful discipline” as a suspension of seven days or more from the police force.
Futterman’s report further explains how the Police Board utilizes its power to disregard the recommendations of the Illinois Parks and Recreation Association (IPRA) and the Police Superintendent on matters of discipline. In both cases mentioned in the report, the Police Board went against the recommendation of the Superintendent and the Review board. Further analysis concludes that this may be standard practice.
According to the Sun-Times, between 2003 and 2007 Chicago Police Superintendents sought to fire 80 officers for misconduct. Just 21 were dismissed. Another 39 were suspended, and the other 20 officers were completely restored to duty.6
In other words, 70 percent of officers the Superintendent believed should be removed from the force between 2003 and 2007 were allowed to remain. The City's top police leader was over-ruled by individuals appointed by Mayor Daley who sit on the Police Board, a shadowy group which is accountable to none, except perhaps to the man who appointed them. It operates with little publicity, even though its decisions play a prominent role in ensuring the quality of policing.
What is unfortunate is that the public may not be fully aware of the actions of the Police Board. Newspapers report that IPRA or Weis recommend suspension or discharge, but that is often the last comment the public hears on the subject. IPRA certainly doesn't advertise which of their recommendations are upheld,7 and in the end it is the Police Board that has the final say as to whether an officer faces discipline or not.8
Whether or not the City wants to arrive at the point of assigning discipline with increased frequency is debatable. Professor Futterman's report claims that the CPD, by refusing to examine (or allowing others to examine) its own data for possible problems, “chooses not to know – avoiding critical self-examination and fighting public and judicial scrutiny of its practices.”9
The City of Chicago has been discussing its intent to institute an Early Warning System – a program that would help identify potential problems and address them before they have an opportunity to become problematic - for years. In 2001, the U.S. Department of Justice "recommended" that the CPD institute a personnel performance system that would widen the scope of the "data employed" and "systemize the problem identification process."10 But without the pressure of a court order, the city has passed responsibility for its development back and forth between the Department, an outside developer, and other government agencies for years, without offering any definitive solutions.11
The city, while conducting its “search” for a program, actually claims to have something serviceable in place already. Professor Futterman explained this system to Chicago aldermen in June 2007 as the same one that, between May 2001 and May 2006, identified only 89 of 662—fewer than one in seven—of Chicago police officers who had more than 10 complaints lodged against them. Disturbingly, the system failed to identify officers who had more than 50 complaints during the same five–year period.12
Indeed, there is even evidence that the current system helps to propagate bad behavior in police; many of the officers flagged by the city as needing intervention averaged 2.6 more complaints per year after they completed the current programs employed for intervention. Further, if the CPD identifies someone engaged in behavior that calls for intervention, it offers the suspect counseling or a class that includes “putting him on notice that he needs to cover his tracks.”13 For officers engaged in criminal behavior, this kind of “intervention” seems more like tacit encouragement.
Yet as research has shown and Chicago has more than evidenced, police departments will not voluntarily gather or offer information about misconduct to the public. Collecting data must be required, not requested.14 The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD), Chicago’s larger cousin, did not receive a “recommendation” from the US Department of Justice to develop its Early Intervention System (EIS) – it received a court order. Los Angeles’ program performs multiple functions: it records allegations of misconduct of individuals; keeps a separate database to track trends of units, stations and divisions; automatically investigates claims made in lawsuits for possible discipline; tracks civil cases for policy and training implications; and requires two separate police auditors to review department practices and review closed litigation files and trends.15
Los Angeles, even with its thoroughly integrated EIS, paid about $77 million in settlements and judgments from January 2005 through June 2008. Yet the price of Chicago’s willful ignorance is even more expensive. During that same period, Chicago taxpayers shucked out $230 million in settlements. Lawsuits involving the police accounted for 44 percent in Chicago compared to the 25 percent of Los Angeles.16
Furthermore, there is additional evidence that when an Early Warning System or Early Identification System is used correctly and in good faith, it can save the office a considerable amount of money.
Studies have shown that the implementation of such systems can significantly reduce civilian complaints. In Minneapolis, the average number of complaints received by officers subject to early intervention dropped by 67 percent following one year of intervention. In Miami-Dade, only 4 percent of those tagged for early intervention had zero use-of-force reports prior to flagging, while after 50 percent had zero use-of reports.17
Los Angeles fits this pattern. Those officers identified by the system and subsequently placed on “performance review,” were involved in fewer shootings and had less use of force and civilian complaints levied against them. After the two-year review period, the number of shootings, use of force tallies, and civilian complaints continued to drop.18
Further, there is no evidence that early intervention policies act as a deterrent to conducting solid police work or aggressiveness. The LASD auditor studied litigation trends over five years and found a steady decrease in the number of cases filed.19 When the auditor measured the drop in cases filed against its crime control activities, he found that “the progress of the Department in limiting its exposure has not come at the expense of police activity in the LASD’s patrol operations.”20
Chicago could implement an Early Warning System tomorrow if the City so chose. The City has one of the most advanced criminal tracking systems in the world, CLEAR, which is noted for being able to predict patterns of behavior. Although issues remain regarding its political motivations, ease of use, and ability to respond to some types of behavior more effectively than others, the program shows that Chicago can take actions when it finds self-interest in doing so.21 Furthermore, in March of 2007 journalist Jamie Kalven wrote that, “Technology may well be forcing the City’s hand: it is increasingly hard to justify the use of high tech tools to identify criminal patterns in the general population, while refusing to do the same with respect to criminals in uniform."22
Federal authorities might also be able to influence change. There are currently at least two separate, ongoing federal investigations that involve the Chicago Police Department. One seeks to explore the tacit acceptance of the Special Operations Section's criminal activities by the Internal Affairs Unit. According to federal investigators, the Internal Affairs Unit of the Chicago Police Department had known for four years that the Special Operations Section was pulling off kidnappings and robberies and did nothing to stop them.23 However, although neither a near decade of discussion nor a Department of Justice “recommendation” could induce the City of Chicago to institute a viable Early Warning System, other pressures have prompted different reform measures.