Focus on Reform: Law School Brings New Scholarship, Voices, Data to National Conversation about Race and Police

Becky Beaupre Gillespie
Law School Communications
November 5, 2015

Top criminal law scholars will gather at the Law School Friday for a conference aimed at introducing new voices and research—as well as concrete reforms—to the increasingly polarized national conversation about police misconduct and accountability, a move that organizers and participants hope will refocus a debate that has been largely defined by fixed positions on both sides.

The “Policing the Police” symposium, which will provide material for the annual volume of the student-edited Legal Forum journal, coincides with a historic release next week by the Law School’s Civil Rights and Police Accountability Clinic of a database documenting every allegation of officer misconduct within the Chicago Police Department since March 2011. It also comes on the heels of a visit to the Law School by FBI Director James B. Comey, ’85, who urged Americans to engage in honest dialog about race and justice, an issue that has dominated the headlines in the past year following a high-profile string of violent encounters between civilians and police.

“The time is now. Each day is vital. As each week passes and more incidents go viral, I can see the gap widening between law enforcement and the communities they opted to serve,” said Ruby Garrett, Editor-in-Chief of the University of Chicago Legal Forum, which each year takes on a single, pivotal issue. Garrett, who works on both the Police Accountability and Juvenile Justice clinics, interviewed Comey before an audience of hundreds during his recent visit. “That is not to say that the videos are the sole reason for the disconnect, but each video creates an opportunity to discuss a current, societal ill—providing a glimpse into stances on key issues. But, we need to have conversations that aren’t limited to a specific incident. The journal is honored to provide such a forum for academics, practitioners, students, and community members to work together toward reform.”

Conference participants will present papers examining a wide variety of issues, such as police compliance with the law and Miranda Rights; police use of force and deadly force; prosecutorial discretion and special grand jury procedures; civil remedies; and recent topics like body cameras, civil oversight, and police unions. Former Law School Professor Tracey Meares, ’91, now a law professor at Yale, will deliver a keynote focused on the distinction between public safety and public security.

“Although issues of police abuse and race are getting so much attention, it feels like much of our national conversation is stuck—we’re saying the same things, people are talking past one another, and very few minds are being changed,” said Clinical Professor and Police Accountability Clinic Director Craig Futterman, who will be contributing a paper that discusses findings from the clinic’s Youth/Police Project and lays out a national agenda for policy reform. “What I hope this conference does is get us unstuck, that it allows us to have honest conversations about race and police where we can listen as much as we talk. This is an opportunity to bring together some of the world’s greatest minds, people who have thought about these issues long and hard, to chart a path to change, a path to reform—a path that I hope will ultimately make us more safe.”

Among the papers will be one by Assistant Professor John Rappaport examining whether and when municipal liability insurance may help reduce the incidence of police misconduct—an inquiry that he hopes will introduce new possibilities for reform. “An insurer in this industry is a business with a financial incentive to try to reduce police misconduct,” he said. “I will explain why I think insurers are likely to accomplish that, but only for certain kinds of misconduct, like the use of excessive force, and not for other kinds, like run-of-the-mill Miranda violations or even Brady violations that result in wrongful convictions. In doing so, I will build out a typology of police misconduct that aims to match varieties of misconduct with their most promising solutions.”

Richard H. McAdams, the Bernard D. Meltzer Professor of Law, and Professor Aziz Huq will present a paper that investigates and details the effects of “interrogation buffers,” a mandatory delay between a use-of-force incident and when the officers involved are questioned. “By mandating a delay of either hours or days between an incident and the first interaction between officers and any internal investigator, interrogation buffers have the predictable effect of obstructing investigations, diminishing the likelihood that culpable officers are subject to effective internal investigation, and correspondingly increasing the probability that officers disposed to use excessive force will continue to work the streets without reprimand or supplemental supervision,” McAdams said.

Futterman’s paper, which grew out of last April’s Youth/Police Conference and the project that inspired it, will bring a “missing piece” to the conversation—the voices of urban youth of color. Many describe routine interactions with law enforcement that have left them feeling alienated from, and distrustful of, police. It is a depth and breadth of alienation that Futterman said surprised even him.

“These kids bring real knowledge that can be brought to bear on the broader policy debates,” said Futterman, who wrote the paper with his youth/police collaborators, Jamie Kalven and Chaclyn Hunt, ’13, of the Invisible Institute, a Chicago-based journalistic production company.

The paper outlines a reform prescription in which they propose solutions that fall into three broad categories: honesty, accountability, and procedural justice, or what Futterman also describes as instilling a “guardian mindset” in police.

Among the solutions outlined in the paper:

  • Acknowledge the realities of young people’s experience with police.
  • Seek honesty and transparency through data collection and public reporting, a point Comey made as well. Futterman argued that every law enforcement agency should be required to collect and report information about encounters between police and civilians. Futterman’s clinic waged a successful Freedom of Information Act battle to open up Chicago Police Department misconduct records to the public; beginning November 10, four years of Chicago police misconduct complaints will be available online in what is the first database of its kind in the nation
  • Develop credible systems for investigating and addressing incidents of police abuse. This includes making it easy for citizens to report misconduct; conducting prompt, unbiased, high-quality investigations; employing even-handed discipline; and establishing a transparent process for internal investigations. This can also include addressing the interrogation buffer that Huq and McAdams examined.
  • Detect and address patterns of abuse. “Technology has revolutionized policing by providing tools to identify patterns of criminal behavior, making law enforcement more effective in addressing crime,” Futterman said. “We need to use that same technology to weed out police officers who have engaged in patterns of abuse.”  
  • Address the “code of silence” head on, by enforcing mandatory reporting policies, protecting and honoring whistleblowers, and working to change the culture through strong leadership. “Police officers hate abuse as much, if not more, than ordinary citizens because it makes their jobs a living hell, it makes people hostile toward them, it makes it hard to solve crime because people don’t trust them,” Futterman said.
  • Building a law enforcement culture in which police see themselves as guardians of the community. Futterman recommends re-evaluating strategies that may create unnecessary negative citizen/police encounters such as stop-and-frisk, training on implicit and explicit bias, teaching de-escalation techniques, ensuring diversity, and establishing procedures that ensure fair and respectful treatment of others.

“This is a clarion call to act,” Futterman said of the paper. “The energies of young people have led us to this historic moment. It’s up to us not to waste it.”

The conference, which is open to the public, will be held Friday at the Law School from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The keynote address will begin at 12:15 p.m. Members of the media may contact Rick Melcher for more information at or 312.795.3550.

Craig B. Futterman
Richard H. McAdams
Aziz Huq
John Rappaport