Tribune investigation shows that Chicago Police Review Process is a joke

A cynical person may ask why the Chicago Tribune, as a member of the “Fourth Estate” puts its important investigations behind a paywall, where the general public cannot see it.  Oh, by the way, I am a cynical person.

Anyway, they have a story, behind its paywall, showing that the “Independent Police Review Authority” is a joke.  Basically, investigating complaints of police misconduct is too hard and it would unfair to officers when investigating new claims to review past ones to see if there is a pattern of similar complaints.

I am sure that the Police officials who set up this phony baloney police review process (in most years there are approximately 0% findings against police officers) justified it as a way to support our police officers and keep them from being harassed by low lifes who they think are out there constantly filing fraudulent complaints.  And I am sure there are some.

But the fact is that Chicago has paid out more than a half billion dollars in police brutality settlements since 2004.  That is just the payouts; it doesn’t count the expenses of fighting these cases.  Or all the other people who were wronged by police but not sufficiently to justify a lawsuit.  Plus, a lot of cases of police misconduct are still dismissed by the federal courts because the police are given a lot of leeway.

That half a billion dollars doesn’t grow on trees.  It comes out of our pockets.  And our children will be paying their pensions, because hardly any of them ever get disciplined.

More importantly, by letting bad cops get away with breaking rules tarnishes the reputation of the entire force with the public.  How do you expect people to respect the police when so many people have had experiences with dishonest cops who get away with it and nobody cares?

Here are some key highlights of the story (liberated from the paywall), which was investigated and reported by Jeremy Gorner and Geoffery Hing.  The full story is much longer:

Few Chicago police officers who are accused of misconduct are found to be at fault, and when they are, most of them are cited for minor infractions that carry little if any punishment, a Tribune analysis of data found.

In fact, nearly three-fourths of the officers found to have committed some kind of wrongdoing weren’t docked any time off or received suspensions of five days or less, the analysis of Police Department records shows.

Department critics and some police accountability experts say people filing complaints against the police face obstacles and long odds in getting their allegations investigated and then substantiated. Nearly 60 percent of all the complaints were thrown out without being fully investigated because the alleged victims failed to sign required affidavits. What’s more, investigators won’t consider an officer’s complaint history as part of the investigation, and many of the cases come down to the word of the officer versus the accuser.

In the end, very few alleged victims prevail, the analysis found. Over four years ending in mid-December 2014, investigators “sustained” a little fewer than 800of the approximately 17,700 complaints, just over 4 percent. The sustained rate rose to about 11 percent if the thousands of people who didn’t sign the affidavit are excluded from the tally.

In the relatively few cases in which officers are found at fault, about 45 percent were given a reprimand or what’s called a “violation noted,” neither of which results in any docked time for the officer. Another 38 percent of the officers were suspended, but three-fourths of them were docked only one to five days off work. Almost 15 percent resigned before punishment could be imposed, the analysis found. And only a dozen officers were dismissed over complaints filed during the four-year period, according to the department records.

Police officials objected to the Tribune’s analysis, saying there are complicated factors at play. Officers routinely stack up complaints by working in Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods. They said the affidavit law protects them from false complaints. And the Independent Police Review Authority, the city agency that investigates the most serious complaints, said it would be unfair to flag officers for past complaints for which they were cleared.

The Tribune analysis found that officers who piled up the most complaints routinely escaped discipline of any kind. Over the four years, the11 officers with the most complaints amassed a combined 253, in some cases for serious allegations of misconduct such as excessive force or illegal searches. Yet just one officer was punished — and received only a five-day suspension for neglecting his duties, the analysis found.

A few of the officers with the most complaints over the last four years also ranked high on similar lists from the 2000s.

According to the analysis, most officers found at fault were disciplined for more minor or technical offenses. For instance, officers were most often cited for “neglect of duty/conduct unbecoming” — about 150 of the nearly 800 sustained complaints. Other common sustained complaints included failure to provide adequate service, misuse of department equipment and other personnel violations.

The Tribune conducted its analysis using internal department data provided through an open-records request…

Discipline for Chicago police officers is a complicated process with three separate city agencies — IPRA; the Police Department, including its Bureau of Internal Affairs; and the Chicago Police Board — deciding punishment for misconduct.

Last year an independent study of the department’s disciplinary system found that officers had multiple opportunities to appeal disciplinary actions, often delaying decisions for months if not years. The city’s collective bargaining agreements with its police unions, particularly the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents rank-and-file officers, have limited the ways in which misconduct can be investigated and disciplined, further complicating the process, according to the report by A.T. Kearney, a management consulting firm, and the law firm of Schiff Hardin. The most recent FOP contract, however, has lessened those roadblocks somewhat, they said.

IPRA said major strides have also been made in recent years by mediating more complaints, significantly lessening investigators’ caseloads and cutting down on the time investigations take. Officers typically get a break in their punishment for taking responsibility.

The Tribune analysis found that a majority of people who filed complaints against police did not follow through by signing the affidavit — a requirement of a state law amended in 2004 with backing by the FOP.As a result, fully 58 percent of the 17,700 complaints were tagged “no affidavit” and were never fully investigated by IPRA or Chicago police.

But some police accountability experts criticized the state law as counterproductive, saying the requirement likely discourages many people from complaining in the first place.

“Requiring to sign an affidavit acts as a deterrent for filing a complaint,” said Merrick Bobb, whose California-based Police Executive Resource Center is overseeing federal court-ordered reforms within the Seattle Police Department.”Complainants are going to think twice.”

“I think the more open the complaint process can be the better,” said Brian Buchner, president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, who noted that filing a complaint against a police officer can be intimidating enough for people who think they were victims of misconduct.

Several veteran Chicago lawyers said there’s good reason not to sign the affidavits. Many of those who file complaints face criminal charges in connection with the same incident, the lawyers said, and it is an unwise strategy to let defendants give statements to police that could be used against them in the criminal case.

“It’s a tool for them to blow people off,” Torreya Hamilton, a lawyer who has filed numerous misconduct lawsuits against Chicago police, said of the affidavit requirement.

Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who has talked to hundreds of residents in neighborhoods with a deeply rooted distrust of police while studying misconduct by officers for years, said he believes even greater numbers of people don’t bother with the initial step of filing a complaint because they have little faith that meaningful discipline will be imposed.

“I don’t know what the complainant gets out of it at the end of the day,” Futterman said. “… The complainant isn’t going to get, ‘Here’s a medal for what you did for exposing this corruption’ or anything like that. It’s a hassle. … It’s a kind of second thought, like, ‘Whoa, do I really want to sign an affidavit? Do I really want to go and follow up after this when there’s little chance that anything’s ever going to come of this?'”…

Police accountability experts faulted IPRA for failing to consider an officer’s history of complaints — including those not sustained — whenever a new complaint is investigated. That way IPRA fails to spot troublesome trends, they said.

“If you look at one complaint in an island within itself, you’re going to miss stuff,” Futterman said. “… That’s just bad Investigations 101. That’s not how you investigate cases.”

As a result, many of the complaints come down to the credibility of the officer and the alleged victim. Without any independent witnesses or video to back up the accuser’s account, that typically means IPRA and the department’s internal affairs side with the officer.

The Tribune found a number of cases in which officers were cleared of wrongdoing by IPRA but the alleged victims pursued lawsuits and won sizable damages at trial or in settlements.

For the full story, look for it in the Sunday Tribune or click here (paywall): http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-chicago-police-citizen-complaints-met-20150613-story.html#page=1

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