At Issue: The Fraternal Order and police reform
Dean Angelo, president of the Chicago lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, spoke at the City Club last week, saying police officers today face unprecedented levels of disrespect, and calling for rebuilding impoverished communities which have high levels of violence.
He also spoke about current efforts to reform policing in Chicago. “Today everybody and their sister wants to implement changes in policy,” he said. “It’s dangerous to think those changes will be credible if they come from people who have never strapped a weapon on.”
His remarks came at a time when Angelo has been accused of “a complete lack of understanding” of the recommendations for reform issued by the mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force. That’s according to task force chair Lori Lightfoot, president of the Police Board, who was quoted by Politico saying, “Read the report, Dean — and get on board with reform.”
(The task force said the FOP contract has “essentially turned the code of silence into official policy.”)
Angelo sidestepped a question about the union’s role in the police accountability crisis, saying less than a half of 1 percent of police officers “tarnish the uniform.”
“Are we responsible for that behavior? That is that adult person’s choice to behave that way. Do we defend people when they get written up or disciplined? We do to an extent. But that is up to the department to recognize behavior that needs to be adjusted.”
He did seem to nod toward the existence of a code of silence among police when he said the union has reached out to the Department of Justice as it investigates the Chicago Police Department “to help facilitate meetings at our building so that the officers wouldn’t be ostracized if they were in the commander’s office for more than 15 minutes and everyone would [ask], what did you say? why were you in there so long?”
He was less clear when asked about contract provisions mandating the destruction of police misconduct records, saying that only unsustained allegations are required to be destroyed: “When something is proved it stays; when something is alleged it needs to go.” He added that “if [a complaint is] part of litigation it stays forever.” Neither assertion is true.
Angelo asked what relevance records going back several decades could have today. One function noted by the task force is as potential evidence for individuals challenging wrongful convictions.
Contracts and consent decrees. At In These Times, Adeshina Emmanuel recently reviewed 20 years of Department of Justice consent decrees mandating reform in police departments across the country, finding many cases where police union contracts “presented a roadblock to achieving key reforms required by the settlement.” Contract provisions have been used to block efforts to improve the handling of police misconduct, strengthen civilian oversight, or establish early-warning systems to identify problem officers, he reports.
In Portland, Oregon, the union sued to block changes to use-of-force rules and training, after DOJ found a pattern of excessive force by police dealing with people with mental illness.
In Newark, New Jersey (in a settlement reached after Newark’s police chief, Garry McCarthy, moved to Chicago), the local FOP welcomed the Justice Department and “helped feds unearth problems” — particularly unconstitutional stops of pedestrians, driven by quota-based department directives that the union had opposed. But the local also sued to block creation of a civilian oversight agency. (The national FOP opposes civilian review boards.)
Experts say real reform will require state and local legislators to take on powerful police unions and repeal so-called “Police Officer Bill of Rights” laws, Emmanuel reports.
Guevara victims win reviews. Years after going to court to win review of their 2000 murder conviction, Gabriel Solache and Arturo DeLeon Reyes last week won a post-conviction hearing.
Theirs is one of at least eight cases identified by the Better Government Association last year in which prisoners have alleged they were framed for murder by Detective Reynaldo Guevara, who retired from the police force in 2005. Three murder convictions based on Guevara investigations have been overturned, and a fourth Guevara target was released after he won a new trial in 2009.
A decade ago, a Humboldt Park group found some 40 cases where Latino youth were investigated for murders by Guevara and convicted with no physical evidence linking them to the crimes — and with witnesses who reported being coerced and intimidated by Guevara. Attorneys familiar with the matter have said there may be many more.
The order for a new hearing for Solache and DeLeon Reyes came three years after Guevara took the Fifth Amendment when called to testify in their case.
The Emanuel administration has refused to release a report completed last year by outside lawyers who reviewed scores of cases in which Guevara was involved, reportedly finding that several likely resulted in wrongful convictions.
Mary Powers. Anyone who has attended or spoken at a Police Board hearing can thank Mary Powers, founder of Citizens Alert, who forced the board to hold open meetings in 1970. Powers, who died on June 25 at the age of 93, took up the cause of police reform after she toured the building where Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was killed in 1969.
The small but persistent group was for decades the foremost proponent of police accountability. A 1992 Chicago Reader profile of Powers says Citizens Alert was a major force in litigation disbanding the Chicago Red Squad and was later “the unquestioned leader in keeping the Burge case in the spotlight.” Powers was an early critic of the use of Tasers.
“A lot of ad hoc groups … spring up after a crisis and then break down,” said Fred Rice, police superintendent under Mayor Harold Washington, speaking of Powers’ group. “But these folks stay with it.”