At Issue: Chicago Police Records Released

Curtis Black
Oct 24, 2016 · 5 min read

Long-time observers were “shocked” by the “sheer number of complaints” as the city turned over five decades of police misconduct records last week, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Of more than 125,000 complaints filed against roughly 25,000 officers from 1967 to 2014, nearly 90 percent were dismissed as unsustained or unfounded, according tothe Tribune’s analysis. (An analysis of part of the data by the Chicago Sun-Timescame up with somewhat different numbers). Where wrongdoing was found, “firing officers was exceedingly rare,” according to the Tribune.

While nearly half of CPD officers had no complaints against them, seven had over 100 and 62 had over 70. “If the police department is truly interested in identifying problem officers, then the clusters of complaints seem to be an obvious place to look,”attorney Jon Loevy told the Tribune.

Jon Loevy, center (YouTube)

Topping the list of officers with complaints was Jerome Finnigan, alleged ringleader of a robbery ring in the disbanded Special Operations Section, who had 157 complaints — far more than previously known. According to the Sun-Times, which analyzed data from 1967 to 2001, Finnigan was never disciplined.

He’s currently serving a 12-year federal sentence for a murder-for-hire scheme and tax evasion. State charges against Finnigan and other SOS officers for robbery, kidnapping and home invasion are pending.

The city provided a searchable spreadsheet for complaints from 1967 to 2001, but complaints from 2001 to 2014 were in a 7,000-page PDF file, making analysis more difficult, the Sun-Times said. The information released doesn’t include badge numbers; demographic data for officers, complainants and subjects; and beat numbers and other geographic information, according to an Invisible Institute analyst.The institute has a more detailed FOIA request pending.

Jamie Kalven of the Invisible Institute called the release “a big deal.” “This is precisely the information we need to diagnose the underlying problems and pathologies in the police department,” he told WBEZ.

Jamie Kalven (Sam Cholke/DNAinfo Chicago)

Desk duty:

Two former Special Operations Section officers still under investigation by the police department remain on paid desk duty — ten years after the SOS scandal came to light,the Tribune reports.

In 2009, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez dropped charges including robbery, kidnapping and home invasion against Officers Thomas Sherry and Carl Suchocki. They were stripped of their police powers and placed on paid desk duty ten years ago pending a series of investigations. A CPD internal investigation continues, according to the Tribune.

The two have spent the longest period on desk duty of 85 officers barred from workingthe streets due to on-going disciplinary cases, according to the Tribune. While theIndependent Police Review Authority has been criticized for inefficient investigations, more of the officers on desk duty are under investigation by thedepartment’s Bureau of Internal Affairs, where investigations can also take years.

Whistleblower lawsuit:

Underscoring recent revelations of a “code of silence” that reaches far beyond thepolice department’s rank-and-file, Officer Jaeho Jung, a ten-year CPD veteran, filed a whistleblower lawsuit last week alleging that he was subjected to retaliation after going to his sergeant to report officers for filing false reports and other misconduct.

(More on last week’s Code of Silence story on WBEZ’s Morning Edition and Pro Publica’s prodcast.)

Fetal cops?

A CPD member being honored for bravery denied the department has “gone fetal,”referring to a phrase used by Mayor Emanuel last year. “Everyone in the city who thinks that we’ve gone fetal, or that the police have gone fetal, don’t believe it for a second,” Officer Antonio Herrera said at the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation’s annual Valor Lunch.

War on Police?

A veteran Chicago-area officer, Louis Hayes Jr., points out that police deaths have been declining since the mid-1970s. But constant messaging that police are under attack creates a climate of fear among cops which can lead to rapid escalation of confrontations, he says.

Hayes calls for an “overhaul” of police training, which he says “spends too much time on exceptions and not enough on rules.” He calls for more emphasis on “slow-down strategies,” implicit bias training, and community outreach.

Bail’s too high:

Some 92 percent of Cook County Jail inmates are waiting for trial because they can’t afford bail, ABC7 reports. Some wait for years.

Max Suchar of the Chicago Community Bond Fund tells ABC that the average bond hearing is 37 seconds. The fund advocates for elimination of money bonds.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is backing legislation to allow the sheriff to seek bail reductions. His office says judges aren’t uniformly following recommendations of a new assessment system designed to identify non-violent suspects who qualify for release pending trial.

Sheriff Tom Dart (YouTube)

Meanwhile, Zacahry Robinson and Michael Lewis, two indigent County Jail inmates, have filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all individuals “who have been determined to be eligible for release but who are detained solely because they cannot afford to post the required amount of bail.”

Body cameras:

Chicago used a highly unusual approach — “piggybacking” on a New Jersey contract — to avoid standard competitive bidding and sign a five-year, $10 million contract with Taser International to outfit CPD members with body cameras, according to theChicago Reporter. But the deal could lock CPD into using Taser’s cloud storage software in perpetuity.

The Atlantic cites Chicago’s experience in an article asking whether body cameras will be “another fancy technology” that “often doesn’t seem to work at the most crucial moments.”

COPA staff:

The city’s 2017 budget provides 141 employees for the new Civilian Office of Police Accountability, a 45 percent increase over the number of positions currently budgeted for the Independent Police Review Authority, the Sun-Times reports.

The IPRA Tracker, a crowdsourced tool produced by City Bureau and the Invisible Institute, recently added information on COPA and IPRA salaries, including IPRA job applications received via Freedom of Information Act, a link to 15 job postings for COPA posted by the city of Chicago a full list of IPRA salaries as of mid-October. TheIPRA Tracker also includes information, full text and crowdsourced annotations on ordinances related to police investigation organizations in Chicago.

DOJ forum:

The U.S. Justice Department has scheduled a fifth hearing as part of its investigation of CPD on Monday, October 24, 6:30 p.m. at Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Jackson.

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