Law School Researchers Release Major Report on Chicago Police

Chicago Police Abuse Cases Exceed Average
Susan Saulny
The New York Times
November 15, 2007

CHICAGO, Nov. 14 — Chicago police officers are the subject of more brutality complaints per officer than the national average, and the Police Department is far less likely to pursue abuse cases seriously than the national norm, a legal team at the University of Chicago reported Wednesday.

The report, “The Chicago Police Department’s Broken System,” comes amid troubled times for the force, the nation’s second largest, which is mired in accusations of misconduct and is the subject of open feuding among elected officials who disagree on aspects of its management.

The department also needs a new superintendent since Philip J. Cline, a longtime officer, resigned in April after an outcry over the lack of swift discipline against officers accused of involvement in two beatings of civilians captured on videotape.

According to the new report, rogue police officers abuse victims without fear of punishment, and the lack of accountability has tainted the entire department, resulting in a loss of public confidence. Patterns of abuse and disciplinary neglect were worst in low-income minority neighborhoods, said the authors, Craig B. Futterman, H. Melissa Mather and Melanie Miles.

The national average among large police departments for excessive-force complaints is 9.5 per 100 full-time officers. For a department of Chicago’s size (13,500, second only to New York), that would correspond to 1,283 complaints a year. From 1999 to 2004, however, citizens filed about 1,774 brutality complaints a year against Chicago officers. Less than 5 percent of the department was responsible for nearly half of abuse complaints, from 2001 to 2006.

Although a great majority of the department is not abusive, the report said, “This does not mean that it bears no responsibility,” adding, “The police code of silence contributes to the machinery of denial.”

Analyzing a broader array of complaints in another breakdown, the authors said that from 2002 to 2004 civilians filed 10,149 complaints accusing officers of excessive force, illegal searches and false arrests, and of abusing them sexually or because of race.

The rate at which the department found enough evidence to believe that the charge of abuse might have occurred in order to sustain a case was 1 percent (124 of the 10,149 complaints), the report said, compared with a national average of 8 percent from 2002, the most recent year for which national data is available.

Just 19 of the 10,149 complaints in Chicago led to suspensions of a week or more, said Mr. Futterman of the University of Chicago.

A spokeswoman for the Police Department did not respond to a call and an e-mail message seeking a response. Last month, in a measure of how hard it is to get data about the department, the City Council began to consider suing the city for access to information on police misconduct. In July, the Council voted to overhaul the department’s office that investigates abuses.

“As the numbers detailed above illustrate plainly,” the report said, “‘not knowing’ about police abuse in Chicago requires a great deal of active effort.”

Copyright 2007 by the New York Times