These patterns of unconstitutional police violence are enabled and shielded by systemic deficiencies in supervision, accountability, and training, and by the code of silence within the department.
Many of the most egregious examples of police misconduct arise from tightly knit groups of officers like these. That’s no accident. Recently released data from the Chicago police department shows that misconduct spreads from officer to officer like an infectious disease. And the same behavior that leads cops to violate the rules often predicts whether they will participate in a shooting.
The data shows not only police shootings, but also thousands of regular police uses of force over more than a decade — involving an average of 10 people every day — documenting cases in which officers tackled, tased, or used other types of force on civilians, nearly 90 percent of whom were people of color. The data provides a more detailed look at the pattern of unconstitutional force discovered by the Justice Department investigation that opened shortly after the release of the McDonald video.
While more than 95 percent of all Chicago police officers never fired their gun from 2004 to 2016, 130 officers have done it more than once.
The code of silence has protected some particularly reprehensible behavior in the C.P.D., much of it directed at the city’s black population. Perhaps the most egregious was that of Jon Burge, a commander who, in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, headed a group of officers that he called the Midnight Crew. To extract confessions, the crew tortured dozens of men, most of them African-American, using electric shock, suffocation, and Russian roulette. Last May, the city agreed to a reparations agreement that included $5.5 million for the victims and an obligation to teach the episode in the public-school curriculum. According to the Better Government Association, between 2010 and 2014 there were seventy fatal shootings by the Chicago police, a higher number than in any other large city. (Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Dallas had a higher number per capita.) Between 2004 and 2014, the city spent $521 million defending the department and settling lawsuits claiming excessive force.
Last March, after a seven-year legal battle, waged by Futterman, Kalven, and two Chicago law firms—Loevy & Loevy and the People’s Law Office—to obtain records of police officers who had accumulated repeated citizen complaints, an Illinois appeals-court judge ordered the records released. They show that, of nearly twenty-nine thousand allegations of misconduct filed between 2011 and 2015, only two per cent resulted in any discipline—and, of those which did, the vast majority took the form of reprimands or suspensions of less than a week. Moreover, while African-Americans filed most of the complaints, those lodged by whites were more likely to be upheld.
By 2007, the department was engulfed in scandal over a surveillance video that showed a drunken officer, Anthony Abbate, beating a female bartender, and allegations that fellow officers covered up for him. That year, Mr. Emanuel’s predecessor, Mayor Richard M. Daley, announced the creation of the Independent Police Review Authority — run by civilians and overseen by the mayor — to replace the Office of Professional Standards.
Now the new system is accused of being little better than the old. From 2011 to 2015, 97 percent of more than 28,500 citizen complaints resulted in no officer being punished, according to data recently released by the Invisible Institute, a nonprofit journalism organization, and the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School. The Police Department and the review authority have questioned the data, though Mr. Emanuel said last week that the low rates of disciplinary action “defy credibility.”
The “few bad apples” theory of police violence posits that a small portion of the police force is ill-intentioned or inclined to misconduct or violence, while the majority of officers are good cops. Until recently, this theory was difficult for civilians to investigate, but department data on complaints against officers obtained through a legal challenge shows that police misconduct in Chicago is overwhelmingly the product of a small fraction of officers and that it may be possible to identify those officers and reduce misconduct.
This far-reaching data set, a product of the nonprofit Invisible Institute’s Citizens Police Data Project, comprehensively covers nearly five years of complaints against Chicago police officers. Each of the 28,588 records in the database offers a detailed account of the incident, including information on the accused officer, the complainant, the type of alleged misconduct, and whether the complaint was found legitimate by an internal investigation.
What we are confronting in Chicago are systemic conditions that have long existed. The institutional responses to the killing of Laquan McDonald — the operation of the code of silence, protracted investigation as a form of cover-up, the use of settlements to avoid public and judicial scrutiny, etc. — are not departures from the norm. They are the norm.
The Emanuel administration did not create the dysfunctional culture within the CPD. But having inherited it, the administration accommodated itself to that culture and defended it, culminating in its deplorable handling of the McDonald case. It has a lot to answer for. Yet the political reality remains that, in the absence of a galvanizing crisis, it would have required extraordinary leadership to take on these deep pathologies.
Now the mayor's political survival hinges on making the most of the opportunity "to do things you could not do before" created by the crisis that has engulfed his administration.
While it may seem surprising that so many complaints against one officer would be tossed out, a Huffington Post analysis of four years of city data released by the Invisible Institute, a nonprofit journalism organization, reveals that there are more than 180 city police officers with more complaints than Van Dyke who weren’t disciplined at all over that time. Most of those complaints were made by black residents, whose allegations of police misconduct are dismissed at nearly four times the rate of complaints filed by whites, HuffPost found.
Of 10,500 complaints filed by black people between 2011 and 2015, just 166 — or 1.6 percent — were sustained or led to discipline after an internal investigation. Overall, the authority sustained just 2.6 percent of all 29,000 complaints. Nationally, between 6 and 20 percent of citizen-initiated complaints are sustained, said Lou Reiter, a police consultant who trains internal affairs investigators. As HuffPost’s Ryan Reilly noted earlier this year, a lack of transparency and accountability within police departments is a phenomenon hardly limited to Chicago.
Documented misconduct of Chicago police dating back decades is not publicly available, but after police officials said they planned to destroy the records, media outlets seeking their release caught a small break from a judge’s emergency order.
On Thursday, Illinois Circuit Court Judge Peter Flynn ruled Chicago police must first contact journalist and human rights activist Jamie Kalven before disposing of hundreds of thousands of files related to complaints against officers.
The emergency order came in response to a petition by Kalven who, along with the Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times and other media organizations, is seeking a full release of the documents, some going back as far as 1967.
Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel walks past a group of Chicago Police Department's newest recruits prior to their graduation ceremony in Chicago, Illinois, April 21, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW) - RTR3M4HT