Massive Expansion of Police Misconduct Data Tool in Chicago by Rajiv Sinclair

Citizens Police Data Project quadruples in size, adding shootings and use of force history

Now contains the oldest electronic disciplinary records available from the Chicago Police Department, dating back to 1967


CHICAGO --Today the Invisible Institute, a journalism production company on the city’s South Side, has quadrupled the size of its public database, the Citizens Police Data Project. The project has expanded to include more than 240,000 misconduct allegations and more than 22,000 individual Chicago Police officers over a 50-year period -- as far back as such electronic disciplinary records exist.

The new searchable records also make public, for the first time, the full names of officers who have fired their weapons. Other critical datasets include officers’ use of force histories, ranks, promotions, commendations, and salary information.

The Citizens Police Data Project is used widely by Chicagoans, lawyers, journalists, academics, legislators and law enforcement officials. It arises out of two watershed events: a landmark court decision in 2014 that made police disciplinary records public in Illinois and a major open records victory in 2016, in which courts rejected the argument of the Fraternal Order of Police that disciplinary records should be destroyed after four years.

More recently, the database has been used to support claims in the class action lawsuit that catalyzed the process that recently resulted in a draft consent decree to govern police reform in Chicago.

“We’ve seen tremendous public benefit from this database,” said Jamie Kalven, founder of the Invisible Institute and the plaintiff of Kalven v. City of Chicago. “The greatly enlarged and enriched data now available will make it even more powerful as a tool for holding law enforcement agencies accountable.”

An initial analysis of the new data has found:

  • A small fraction of Chicago’s police force -- only 130 officers -- account for about a third of all incidents of deadly force, as reported in The Intercept today in “The Chicago Police Files.” These officers repeatedly participate in shootings, some as many as six times, whereas more than 99 percent of the police force will never be involved in any such incident over the course of their careers


  • Officers with high levels of complaints (at least 10 complaints) generate 64% of all complaints (January 1, 2000 - June 30, 2016 data) on the force. Police officers with the most complaints are less likely to be disciplined.


  • From 2000 to 2016, only 1.2% of civilian complaints resulted in an officer being suspended or terminated.


  • When citizens file complaints against the police, they are 20 times less likely to be believed than when police officers file complaints against their fellow officers (2000-2016 data).


  • Excessive force cases rarely result in discipline. Out of more than 8,700 excessive force claims from January 2007 to June 2016, investigators sustained only 1.5% of cases. Nearly 74% of these cases were filed by African-Americans.


  • Racial disparities in use of force have increased over the last decade, even as Chicago’s black population has declined. These disparities are seen even in majority-white areas of the city. Of the five police districts with the highest rates of force against African Americans per African-American resident, four are majority-white districts. African Americans also experience higher rates of force even in low-crime neighborhoods.


  • Internal reports show young black men experience Chicago Police use of force far more than white men -- 14 times more often, according to 2005-2015 data -- as reported by The Intercept today. Young black women were also 10 times more likely to experience force as their white female peers and twice as likely as young white men.


  • Cliques of misconduct and violence develop within the police department, according to Invisible Institute data published by The Intercept today. Police misconduct spreads within networks of officers as officers are exposed to other officers with higher numbers of complaints.  


  • Complaints from areas of the city where high portions of the population experience extreme poverty -- where many residents  earn less than $1.25 per day -- have a significantly lower likelihood of being sustained.

The new data also reveal alarming trends with respect to domestic violence among police officers. More than 6 percent of all Chicago police officers were accused of physical domestic abuse between 2000 and 2016 (excluding cases where multiple officers were accused or where the officer was unidentifiable). These officers also receive 50% more use of force complaints than their peers, and they receive other complaints of all kinds at a 55% higher rate than fellow officers.

The largest online database of its kind, the Citizens Police Data Project originally launched in November 2015. It was named the winner of the Knight News Challenge on Data in January 2015, the Hillman Foundation’s Sidney Award in December 2015, and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sunshine Award in 2016.



The Invisible Institute is a journalism production company on the South Side of Chicago. Our mission is to enhance the capacity of citizens to hold public institutions accountable. Among the tactics we employ are human rights documentation, investigative reporting, civil rights litigation, the curating of public information, and the orchestration of difficult public conversations. The activities of the Invisible Institute cohere around a central principle: we as citizens have co-responsibility with the government for maintaining respect for human rights and, when abuses occur, for demanding they be addressed.


The Intercept, a publication of First Look Media, was launched in 2014 to provide an outlet for fearless, adversarial journalism. Our reporters have the editorial freedom to hold powerful institutions accountable, digging beneath official narratives to reveal the hidden truth. The Intercept’s award-winning coverage focuses on national security, politics, civil liberties, the environment, technology, criminal justice, media, and more. Regular contributors include co- founding editors Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill.


New Police Data Tool Makes 56,000 Misconduct Complaints Public by Alison Flowers

Citizens Police Data Project is largest known interactive repository of police complaint records

CHICAGO — Today the Invisible Institute, a journalism production company, launched an online data project of misconduct complaint records for more than 8,500 Chicago Police officers — the most expansive public database of its kind. Designed to serve as a national model of transparency and accountability in law enforcement, the Citizens Police Data Project is the product of a more than decade-long collaboration with the University of Chicago Law School’s Mandel Legal Aid Clinic.

“Transparency doesn’t happen on its own. It’s up to us as citizens to make it happen and address abuses when they occur,” said Jamie Kalven, founder of the Invisible Institute and the plaintiff in Kalven v. City of Chicago, a watershed court decision in Illinois that made police misconduct records public in 2014. “Information is key to our ability to do that.”

Analysis of 56,370 misconduct complaints reveals that less than 3% of allegations lead to disciplinary action, with even lower rates for officers charged with high numbers of complaints. The data also shows a significant pattern of racial bias, with black Chicagoans accounting for over 60% of total complaints, and less than 25% of sustained complaints.

Other findings, based on complaints available from the periods of 2001-2008 and March 2011 through March 2015, include:

  • Even when misconduct by an officer is proven, 85% of disciplinary actions are zero to five days of suspension.

  • Punishment for proven offenses is not aligned with the offense. The average discipline for  administrative violations, such as having secondary employment, was 16.5 days. Meanwhile, the average punishment for proven rape or sex offenses by an officer was six days.

  • Most officers, around 80% of the total force, receive zero to four complaints over the course of their law enforcement careers, while approximately 90% receive zero to 10 complaints.

  • Officers with more than 10 complaints, “repeat” officers, representing 10% of officers, received 30% of all complaints, four times the amount of misconduct complaints as the rest of the force. Repeat officers have an even lower rate of “sustained” findings - 4% versus the rest of the department, with only 0.05% (1 in 2,000) of these complaints resulting in a substantial penalty.

  • Black officers are disproportionately found guilty of an offense and suffer higher punishments as a result. Black officers with sustained findings are punished more than twice as often as white officers.

“To be clear, this information does not tell us whether an officer is abusive or not,” Kalven said. “But what it does tell us is complaints are not being properly addressed, and until now, the public hasn’t been given the department’s own evidence of that.”

The Invisible Institute obtained the majority of the public data through Freedom of Information Act requests and civil rights litigation, resulting in three major pools of abuse allegations for the following date ranges: May 2001 to May 2006, for officers with more than 10 complaints; May 2002 to December 2008, for officers with more than five excessive force complaints; and March 2011 to September 2015, for all officers. The Chicago-based civic technology company DataMade participated in early analyses of the data.

In a bold move for open government, earlier this year the City of Chicago agreed to turn over its full list of misconduct complaints for all officers, dating back to 1967, to the Invisible Institute, Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. However, access to this information was blocked by a temporary injunction secured by the Fraternal Order of Police that bars the City from releasing all but the last four years of data. The FOP argues that release of the information would violate the terms of its contract with the City. The City appealed, and the Invisible Institute filed an amicus brief in support of the City’s position.

“A great deal is at stake here,” said University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, founder of the Mandel Clinic’s Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project. “More than a hundred people remain in prison who have charged that they were tortured by former Commander Jon Burge and his henchmen. If the union prevails, the documentation of their torture would go up in smoke.”

Meanwhile, the Citizens Police Data Project launches alongside a collaboration with City Bureau, a new neighborhood newsroom and journalism training lab aimed at regenerating civic media within Chicago’s historically disenfranchised and underreported neighborhoods. The first cycle of this new program will train young South and West side reporters to cover issues of policing and police misconduct alongside veteran and working journalists. Among the Invisible Institute’s other initiatives, in partnership with the Mandel Clinic, over the last two years the Youth and Police Project has been talking with teenagers on the South Side of Chicago about their experiences of police.




The Invisible Institute is a nonprofit Chicago-based journalistic production company that works to enhance the capacity of civil society to hold public institutions accountable. Toward that end, we develop strategies to expand and operationalize transparency. We seek to make visible perspectives too often excluded from public discourse. And we develop social interventions designed to leverage necessary reforms. Among the tools we employ are human rights documentation, investigative reporting, civil rights litigation, the curating of public information, conceptual art projects, and the orchestration of difficult public conversations.