Kicking the Pigeon #17 – Epilogue

Today Stateway Gardens looks like a place where a battle was fought. The lone surviving building—3651-53 South Federal—rises at the center of thirty-three acres of barren, rutted land like a ruin in a vanquished city. Last October, as U.S. Cellular Field (across the expressway and a world away ) was being prepared for a World Series game that night, a friend and I walked across the development deep in conversation. A large hawk swooped past at eye-level, animating the air with its wings, and alighted on a nearby lamp post. Then, with sovereign disregard for us, it surveyed the desolate terrain in search of prey.

Seen from the vantage point of the CHA and developers, a perspective far removed from the ground, Stateway is now a blank slate, a place without a history, a canvas on which the “new community” of Park Boulevard will be created. There are signs of what is to come. The first building in the new development—an 80-unit structure called Pershing Court—has been built off site at 39th and State. At 35th and Federal, there is a marketing office. And the Water Department is laying a new sewer system.

Fifty of the 230 apartments in 3651-53 South Federal are occupied. Diane Bond is among those who remain. They have recently been told by the CHA and the developers that the building will be closed in the fall of this year.

At a ground-breaking ceremony last December, developer Allison Davis declared that Park Boulevard would replace the Stateway high-rises—“hopeless reservoirs of the poor”—with a “symphony of diversity.”

* * * *

In 2004, once land clearance in high-rise CHA developments had been largely completed, the Public Housing South section of the CPD was disbanded and its officers redeployed. Several members of the skullcap crew—Stegmiller, Savickas, and Utreras—were reassigned to the Second District, which includes Stateway, and remain in the area.

Police presence at Stateway has been uneven. For a period, during the fall of 2004 and winter of 2005, there was a police car parked around-the-clock in close proximity to 3651-53 South Federal. The officers did not get out of the car, they did not walk the building, but at least they performed a scarecrow function. By spring, the police had pulled out, and the drug dealers had returned.

Larry Washington, a long-time Stateway resident, recently had an exchange with a police sergeant about the situation. “Why post officers here?” said the sergeant. “The building’s going to be torn down soon anyway.”

This fall the CPD installed another kind of scarecrow directly across from the building: a surveillance camera of the sort that has been appearing in inner city neighborhoods throughout Chicago. Intended to be highly visible, these so-called camera “pods” are mounted atop tall poles and housed in boxes with the CPD logo on the side and a blinking blue light. They are the most visible part of the CPD’s high-tech approach—arising out of the confluence of “homeland security” and local law enforcement—to crime-fighting. A pilot program using the pods in the Harrison District on the West Side is credited with dramatically shutting down the drug trade. Ultimately, the plan is to install some 2,000 such cameras across the city. The CHA has purchased twenty-four surveillance pods from the CPD at a cost of $1.1 million for placement at public housing developments. Presumably, the pilot project in the Harrison District had officers at the other end of the cameras, closely monitoring criminal activity on the street. It is not clear that this is true of the pods installed more recently, such as the one at Stateway. In any case, they do not seem to be having much effect. The word on the street is that they function not as deterrents but as billboards declaring “Drugs Sold Here.”

* * * *

Bond v. Utreras has progressed slowly. On June 6, 2005, Judge Lefkow granted plaintiff’s motion to file the amended complaint. Under federal rules, the defendants have twenty days to respond. Seven months have now elapsed. Neither the City nor the individual defendants have responded to the amended complaint.

In the course of the discovery process, a host of issues have arisen between the parties. Ms. Bond’s attorneys charge that the City lawyers have pursued a litigation strategy designed to frustrate the possibility of meaningful judicial or public scrutiny of CPD practices. The issues that have arisen in the context of discovery are now before Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys. He has indicated he will rule on them within the next few weeks.

On the eve of his deposition by City attorneys, scheduled for September 8, Willie Murphy, Bond’s son, was arrested at Stateway with another resident, Eric Finley. The two men gave the following account of what happened: They had gone to Finley’s brother’s apartment with a friend to watch DVD’s. Soon after they entered the apartment, a team of officers, including Utreras and Savickas, kicked in the front door and immediately began to beat them. They then handcuffed the three men.

“Who’s got a belt?” one of them asked. “Give me the thickest belt you’ve got.” He assessed their belts but did not find one to his liking.

Another officer disconnected a heavy orange extension cord from the dryer. He gave the cord to an African-American officer named Lee who doubled it up to form a whip.

“You’re gonna see how Kunte Kinte felt,” said Lee, referring to a character in Roots, Alex Haley’s saga about slavery.

He then repeatedly whipped each of the handcuffed men in turn, as he asked them broad questions. (“What do you know?” “I don’t know nothing.” “You know something.”) While Lee was whipping the three men, the other officers searched the apartment. Murphy and Finley were arrested on drug charges.

The sight of police officers floods Bond with panic. She has not removed the handwritten note warning those who approach her door not to knock unless it is “for a good cause (not stupid).” On the inside of the door she has taped several pictures of Jesus, in order, she told me, “to keep away all bad things.”

A recent encounter left her deeply shaken. In an emergency motion filed by her attorneys on February 4, she reported that on January 31 she was stopped on the Stateway grounds by a police officer who accused her of having drugs on her and searched her. When the officer told her name to a second officer, he replied, “Oh, Diane Bond—from ‘Kicking the Pigeon.’” The second officer ordered her to get into his police car and interrogated her. “You know too much,” he told her. “I could kill you right now.”

* * * *

The City continues to use highly moralistic language to promote the idea that the razing of the high-rises is in itself a social good. Asked on November 15, 2005 on CBS’s “Early Show” what he thinks his “most important accomplishment” is, Mayor Daley spoke first of education and then cited the “restoration of public housing.”

“We tore down the high-rises,” said the Mayor, “and we’re rebuilding the souls of people.”

Soon the Stateway site will be animated by the pleasing spectacle of new housing being built. We will be invited to celebrate this as progress, as a new beginning. The regime of not-knowing will be abetted by the universal human impulse to put it all behind us. Yet the questions raised by the Bond case will remain. If it is established that during these years of “transformation” a group of police officers inflicted racial and gender violence in public housing communities, with complete impunity, what will that say about the policies and practices of the CPD? What will it say about the character of the CHA’s Plan for Transformation? What will it say, as Mayor Daley might put it, about the soul of the city?

Kicking the Pigeon #16: The Regime of Not-Knowing

In view of the gravity of harms to citizens, communities, and institutions that flow from police abuses, what are the impediments to instituting an effective monitoring and disciplinary system? Clearly, they are not technological. The City could, with available technology, have put an adequate system in place years ago. So what is the basis for resistance? Rogue officers have obvious reasons to resist effective oversight, but why do their supervisors protect them?

As a matter of logic rather than direct knowledge, it seems clear that senior CPD officials are less concerned about protecting rogue officers than about protecting the institution from the consequences of what an effective early warning system would reveal. The purpose of such a system is to detect signs an officer is beginning to stray. As the Mayor’s Commission on Police Integrity put it, “small problems become big ones if left unattended.” An early warning system designed to perform this function in the future by organizing available data will necessarily disclose the consequences of not having had an effective system in the past. When the City institutes such a system, it will have to confront a number of problems, once small, that having been “left unattended,” are now “big.”

The patterns of abuse disclosed will demand action. They will make visible the extent of the suffering inflicted by rogue officers—the number of convictions based on false testimony and abusive practices, and in cases of arrests in public housing, the number of families made homeless by “One Strike” evictions. The costs for the City—politically, institutionally, monetarily—will be substantial. The courts will be flooded by legal challenges brought by those who claim to have suffered at the hands of officers identified as abusive. The recent experience of Los Angeles is instructive. As of April, 2005, it had paid out close to $70 million to settle more than 200 lawsuits arising out of the so-called Rampart Scandal involving, in the words of the City attorney who handled the claims, the abuses of “a handful of rogue officers.”

Yet the costs of the status quo, though partially hidden because spread over time, are even more staggering. The City currently pays out millions of dollars each year to settle excessive force cases (and additional millions to provide legal representation for the officer-defendants). The total cost of settlements in 2004, according to the Chicago Reporter, was more than $20 million. By settling rather than allowing cases to go to trial, the City avoids judgment, disclosure, and acknowledgement. It avoids the possibility that a judge will dictate reforms.

Apart from the settlements, it is hard to assign a dollar figure to the cost of investing so much institutional energy in not knowing about patterns of abuse. Taken together, the code of silence among officers on the ground, the OPS machinery for converting citizen complaints into findings of “not sustained,” and the institutional resistance to effective monitoring form a single, unified system—a regime of not-knowing.

This system is enabled by the ideological/narrative medium of “the war on drugs”—the official myths and social scientific folklore, the reflexive journalism and popular entertainment that shape our perceptions of abandoned communities such as Stateway Gardens.

As you read this account of the abuses Diane Bond alleges Chicago police officers committed against her—so raw, so appalling, so unacceptable—did you find yourself thinking, “But maybe she’s a drug dealer. . . maybe someone close to her, her son perhaps or her boyfriend, is a drug dealer. . . maybe her community is overrun by drug dealers”? Did you find yourself searching for reasons that could somehow explain and perhaps justify the police conduct alleged?

The impulse is understandable. Indeed, it is hard to resist, because we do not want to believe police officers would act this way. But consider the implications. Are “the series of horrendous acts” (to quote the City attorneys) alleged in the Bond case any less horrendous, if the officers had probable cause to come to her door? The defendants are not making that argument. They are flatly denying any contact whatsoever with Bond on the dates of the alleged incidents. Yet is there perhaps a sense in which we are inclined to make the argument on their behalf? Are we so conditioned to apartheid justice—to “the war on drugs” as an exception to constitutional norms akin to the exception being carved out for “the war on terror”—that we can no longer confidently recognize the heinous nature of the crimes at issue?

This summer one of the University of Chicago law students who participates in the Stateway Civil Rights Project interviewed for a job at a Chicago firm. The lawyer interviewing him asked what he had found most interesting in law school. He described his work on the Bond case. The lawyer became incredulous and hostile. He refused to accept that there was not a rational explanation for the Bond incidents.

“I know cops,” the lawyer told the student. “I know good cops, and I know bad cops. There is always a reason.”

After decades of mass incarceration and the practice of guilt by association embodied in policies such as “One Strike,” have we so lost our bearings that the mantra “gangs and drugs” suffices as an all-purpose rationale for any act a police officer commits in an abandoned neighborhood? Has the process by which those who live in such neighborhoods come to be defined as “criminals” rather than “blacks” (or “fellow citizens” or “neighbors”) advanced so far that it now blinds us to the character and antecedents of what we are allowing to be done in our names?

To be continued…

Kicking the Pigeon #15: “A Few Bad Apples”

“In a democracy, there is nothing as good as a good police officer, and nothing as bad as a bad one.” – Susan Herman

The universal defense offered by police departments charged with brutality, as by governments charged with torture, is that “there will always be a few bad apples in any barrel.” There is a measure of truth in this. It is generally agreed that the vast preponderance of abuse is committed by perhaps five percent of officers. This is not an insignificant number in a force of more than 13,000. And there is no reason to assume the five percent is evenly distributed; there may be sections of the police force, such as the public housing section, where the percentage is significantly higher. Yet the image of “a few bad apples” remains plausible. It is a way of talking about police abuse that keeps visible the large majority of officers who do not commit abuses and can be assumed to deplore such conduct. The image is, however, fatally flawed in two respects. It does not comprehend the scale of the harm a handful of violent agents, acting with impunity, can do. Nor does it convey the impact those few bad apples, if not removed, will have on the barrel.

We’re the real police.” Several Stateway residents have quoted this declaration by members of the skullcap crew. Also: “You know what we’re capable of.” Or alternatively: “You have no idea what we’re capable of.” The implication is clear: we are above the law. Residents have little reason to question that assertion, for despite numerous complaints against them, crew members have continued to prey at will on public housing communities.

Day after day, month after month, year after year, a rogue crew can do a staggering amount of damage. To individuals. To families. To communities. This is especially true in the setting of public housing where an arrest for “drug-related activity”—even if the case is dismissed or yields a verdict of “not guilty”—can result in the eviction of the entire family under HUD’s “One Strike” policy.

A rogue crew, operating with impunity, can also do profound, long-lasting damage to the legitimacy of government, alienating whole populations from civil authority and engendering the criminal and anti-social behaviors it is supposedly combating. This is a dynamic I have become familiar with during my years at Stateway.

According to the social scientific literature, children in inner city neighborhoods are drawn, in the absence of other models of constructive activity and effective agency, to the charismatic figure of the drug-dealing gangbanger. This analysis is widely accepted and largely unchallenged. It is refracted through journalistic accounts of inner city dysfunction. And it coheres tightly with a set of policy prescriptions that center on dismantling inner city neighborhoods. It is also a misleading half-truth. At any rate, in over a decade spent on the ground at Stateway, I have not observed it as a strong pattern. Yes, I have seen adolescents drift toward the drug trade, as they begin to explore the world beyond their households. The drug marketplace is a form of activity in public space in their immediate geography that carries the requisite transgressive charge for adolescent adventurers. And, yes, I have observed inner city teenagers who are every bit as caught up in media celebrations of thug life as white teenagers in suburbia or South Dakota, but I have seen little evidence that the bored men standing all day “up under the building” in every kind of weather are powerful role models.

What I have seen again and again (but not found much reflected in the social scientific literature or journalism) is the impact on these young people of being abused by the police and witnessing others being abused. A natural response to seeing your friends and neighbors beaten and humiliated—I have experienced it myself—is to think, “If this is the face of authority, then I’m going to stand with my guys.” If I feel this as a middle-aged white from outside the neighborhood, imagine what a fourteen-year-old boy trying to find his legs as a man feels. This dynamic produces outlaws not because people are ignorant of the wider world or somehow stunted in their development. It is a fundamentally healthy response: not necessarily healthy in where it leads—it can lead to some very dangerous places—but healthy in that it is animated by a sense of justice. Far more than the charisma of the drug dealer, it is, in my experience, the ugly face of civil authority that fuels the outlaw solidarity of the street.

Again, it is important to emphasize that most of the abuse is committed by a relatively small number of officers. It does not follow, however, that the competent, respectful conduct of the majority offsets the injuries inflicted by the abusive few. For one thing, we are talking here about the impact of violent crime—about the way the victim of an assault by a person with green hair thereafter responds with intense fear to green-haired people. That response is not a matter of choice. It is visceral—a reflex fired by the victim’s nerve endings—and it can be the work of a lifetime to undo its grip. Why do we imagine the dynamic is any different when the distinguishing feature of the threat is a police uniform (or the de facto uniforms of plainclothes officers)?

The violence inflicted by rogue officers has the added quality of being a betrayal of public trust: protectors reveal themselves to be predators. The impact of that betrayal is greatly compounded by the failure of the police department to discipline rogue officers. Precisely because the institution does not hold them accountable for their crimes, they come to embody the institution for their victims. Again, this is not corrected by the good police work of other officers. For the message conveyed by the institutional failure to hold abusive officers accountable is that they are indeed “the real police.”

Imagine what it would be like to live under such a cruel, arbitrary regime. To be vulnerable at any moment to having violent men invade your home, verbally and physically abuse you and your children, then deny it ever happened. To be subject to being falsely accused by them of crimes you did not commit and convicted on the basis of fabricated evidence. To live from day to day with the fear their presence—the mere sight of them—provokes. (“You know what we’re capable of.”) To know there is no meaningful avenue for redress open to you, no responsive authority to which you can appeal for relief.

The impunity of “a few bad apples” can create conditions of life on the ground in abandoned communities that resemble those in the most repressive police states.

For much of the last year, there was an exhibition at the Chicago Historical Society of photographs and postcards taken as souvenirs at lynchings. It evoked a world in which unspeakable violence committed by a relative handful was an effective tool for oppressing an entire population, because local government and the “good” people of the society acquiesced, thereby underwriting the impunity of the violent ones. The title of the exhibition was unexpected, profound, and on reflection, precise in naming the impact of such impunity on those subject to abuse. It was called Without Sanctuary.

To be continued…

Kicking the Pigeon #14: CLEAR

Having established that the City has long been aware of the inadequacies of its monitoring and disciplinary system, the critical question is whether it has acted in a timely manner to implement recommendations for reforming that system.

A budget, Hannah Rosenthal of the Chicago Foundation for Women recently remarked, is a moral compass. It orients an institution, expresses its direction, and documents its values. It reflects institutional priorities—what is important to the institution and what is not. Budget numbers may also testify to areas of neglect or reveal de facto policies of underfunding certain activities in order to limit their effectiveness.

Over the last decade, the City has invested heavily in a sustained effort to make optimal use of information technology for the purpose of crime-fighting. This effort has yielded a comprehensive strategy that includes among its elements an expanding network of surveillance cameras across the city and information-driven deployment of police personnel. The centerpiece of this strategy is a criminal justice information system known as CLEAR—Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting.

The nerve center for the various applications that constitute CLEAR is a state-of-the-art “data warehouse.” An ever expanding network of databases, it provides access to a vast repository of information drawn from multiple sources. It enables police personnel to search for relevant information organized according to a wide range of variables. And it guides deployment decisions by providing real-time data to help identify “hot spots.”

CLEAR is the product of a partnership between the CPD and the Oracle Corporation. After some false starts in upgrading its technology in the 1990s, the CPD entered into an agreement in 2001, under which Oracle agreed to invest $20 million in developing CLEAR in exchange for the right to sell it to other law enforcement agencies. Other funding has come from the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security.

The essence of CLEAR is criminal justice data integration. As more agencies participate and more data sources are added, it continually expands its reach and effectiveness. The momentum of its growth has been impressive. In January of 2004, Mayor Daley and Governor Blagojevich announced that CLEAR would develop into a statewide criminal justice database and would embrace all criminal justice agencies in the state. In view of this expanded mission, it was renamed I-CLEAR.

The last great innovation in data-driven policing—the ComStat system developed by the New York Police Department—funnels information up the chain of command where is it processed and then disseminated. CLEAR, by contrast, is designed to provide the officer on the street, as well as the supervisors and crime analysts at headquarters, with immediate access to its ever expanding universe of data. In the fall of 2004, Mayor Daley and Superintendent Cline announced that the City would be outfitting some 1,200 squad cars with laptops that would give officers on the street wireless access to I-CLEAR. “We’ve always said that the technological advances we’ve made in this department over the years are useless if officers in the field can’t access the information quickly,” said Cline.

The CPD credits I-CLEAR with reducing crime and increasing productivity. Others credit the CPD with building the future of law enforcement. In 2004, the CPD received the Grand CIO Enterprise Value Award from CIO Magazine in a competition that included Dell, Procter & Gamble, and Pfizer. One of the judges, the chief information officer of Raytheon, said, “Enterprise value in its highest form is the opportunity for IT to transform a business, to bring a whole new world into existence. The Chicago Police Department totally changed the game.”

Superintendent Cline and his colleagues have demonstrated they fully understand the power of information technology to detect patterns of criminality. The question is: have they applied these tools with the same sense of urgency and clarity of purpose to preventing human rights abuses by the police against citizens?

During the period CLEAR has been evolving, the policies and practices of OPS have regularly been questioned. In response to public criticism, OPS staff members have repeatedly cited the lack of requisite technology as the reason they cannot harvest more information from their files.

A 1998 Human Rights Watch report titled Shielded From Justice notes that OPS does not provide public reports containing “information regarding the subject officer or complainant, such as race, age, or gender, or the district where the incident took place or where the officer involved is assigned.” OPS staff explained “that funding has not been available for computerization of its work, and that everything is done by hand, making a comprehensive public report unfeasible.”

In September, 1999, the Chicago Reporter stated that “OPS does not keep computerized records of complaints.” It quoted Callie Baird, then the office’s chief administrator:

. . . because her office is not “automated,” she is unable to analyze demographic trends in complaints, investigations and discipline. “People think that we have this [information] and we don’t want to give it out,” she said. “But we don’t have it compiled according to the way people are requesting it.”

In an investigative report on OPS broadcast on May 12, 2004, Pam Zekman of CBS 2 Chicago reported that Lori Lightfoot, then chief administrator of OPS, said “her office is in the process of implementing new technology that would allow better tracking of officers.” As Bond v. Utreras unfolds, we will no doubt learn more about this process. I only know that in the fall of 2004—at a time when the City was outfitting squad cars with state-of-the-art laptops with wireless access to its immense database—a visitor to the offices of OPS reported that investigators appeared to be working on antique 386 and 486 computers.

The “new technology” to which Lightfoot referred is presumably the personnel component of CLEAR. According to academic researchers who have evaluated CLEAR under a grant from the Department of Justice, this module will eventually include a yet-to-be-developed “Personnel Performance System” which “will be a repository for all data related to officer behavior and performance”:

It will assist management in the interpretation of information provided by the various modules comprising the Personnel Suite, thus allowing for the early identification of officers whose performance indicates potential problems as a result of recurrent citizen complaints, pursuits and traffic accidents, firearm-discharge incidents and the like. Officers so identified are provided with intervention (counseling or training) designed to improve the problematic behavior. While this is currently done on a manual basis, the Personnel Suite will widen the scope of the data employed and systematize the problem-identification process. Development of the CPD’s performance monitoring system is not the result of a consent decree; however, U. S. Department of Justice recommendations for jurisdictions so mandated will anchor Chicago’s program.

If these words were given concrete meaning, the City would indeed have an effective monitoring system. They are, however, only words. Eight years after the Mayor’s Commission on Police Integrity recommended the CPD institute a “fully computerized,” “sophisticated and thorough” early warning system, the “Personnel Performance System,” according to the evaluators, “remains in the conceptual stage.”

The City will no doubt argue that it has acted on the recommendation in exemplary fashion by developing a state-of-the-art information technology strategy. It will say that the monitoring function has been an integral part of CLEAR from the start, that CLEAR is being rolled out in a systematic way, and that the monitoring component is contingent on other parts of the system being built first. It will say that these things take time.

Such an argument begs fundamental questions. Should systemic patterns of human rights abuse by the police be allowed to continue unchecked for years or even decades, while the CPD develops the ideal system for addressing them? Is the promise of such a system at some point in the receding future an adequate response, when the City’s failure to use existing resources to address these patterns now exposes citizens to harms that could be avoided? Does the fact that CLEAR’s early warning system remains “in the conceptual stage” reflect a rational sequencing of tasks or profoundly skewed priorities?

To be continued…

Kicking the Pigeon #13: “An excellent blueprint for change”

We’ll use all our resources to go after police officers who engage in misconduct. They are giving a black eye to the majority, the ninety percent of the cops that go out there everyday and put their life on the line to keep this city safe.

–Superintendent Philip Cline, Chicago Police Department

OPS has amassed a wealth of information—thousands of complaints of excessive force each year—that could provide the basis for a highly effective early warning system. The fact that OPS investigators do not “sustain” most of them does not make these complaints any less useful for this purpose. Patterns of police abuse are not random. It is generally agreed that repeat offenders, who constitute a small percentage of the total police force, commit most of the abuses. The mass of complaints, if they were effectively harvested, would thus yield clear patterns.

No one argues against the proposition that the Chicago Police Department should have an effective early warning system. The issue of police accountability has a long history in Chicago. When challenged, the City says it has an adequate early warning system and is steadily improving it.

How might such assertions be assessed? There are several relevant lines of inquiry. Among them: Is the City aware of the inadequacies of its system? Has it acknowledged the validity of recommendations that it address those inadequacies by instituting an effective early warning system?

The history is instructive. Apart from the recommendations of national commissions and associations that speak to the issue in general terms, there is substantial evidence the City has long known its system is inadequate.

In 1994, the CPD purchased the BrainMaker program from California Scientific Software. Described by the company as “neural network software,” BrainMaker was intended to identify officers needing additional supervision, training, or counseling. The software was used to analyze the behavior patterns of 200 officers who had been terminated for disciplinary reasons. The patterns that emerged from this analysis were then used to identify “at risk” officers currently serving in the police force. The initial application of BrainMaker identified 91 “at risk” officers, more than half of whom were not enrolled in counseling. “We’re very pleased with the outcome,” said Deputy Superintendent Raymond Risely at the time. “We consider it much more efficient and capable of identifying at-risk personnel than command officers might be able to do. The old method just can’t compete with it.” Because of the size of the police force, he added, it’s “pretty much impossible for all at-risk individuals to be identified” by supervisors. Deputy Commissioner Risely characterized BrainMaker as a complement to existing counseling programs. The program, he emphasized, was not disciplinary. “It’s an opportunity for an officer who is moving in the wrong direction to rehabilitate himself. If an officer refuses to participate, nothing happens to him.” BrainMaker was, however, intensely resisted by the Fraternal Order of Police, the police union. And in 1996 the CPD abandoned its plans to use the program. It appears that data generated by BrainMaker was deleted, although it would have provided information that could have been used to prevent abuses by officers identified as “at risk.”

In 2001, the Justice Coalition of Greater Chicago, a coalition of community groups, issued a study that concluded that the CPD lacked adequate early warning, disciplinary, and monitoring systems. The Police Board stated in response that it “recognizes the importance of an effective early warning system to identify and remedy potential disciplinary problems.” The Board recommended that the CPD “consider additional methods of developing an effective and automated early warning system.”

Perhaps the strongest evidence the City is aware it lacks an adequate early warning system is provided by the report of the Mayor’s Commission on Police Integrity. In 1997, in the wake of a police scandal involving seven officers in the Austin District and three officers in the Gresham District who had been robbing drug dealers, Mayor Daley appointed the commission and charged it with the mission of investigating the underlying causes of the scandal and making recommendations for reform. Led by former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, it included Sharon Gist Gilliam, former budget director for the City and current chair of the Chicago Housing Authority board; Fred Rice, former superintendent of police; and Anita Alvarez, director of the Public Integrity Unit of the Cook County States Attorney’s Office. It was staffed by the Office of International Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In November of 1997, the Commission presented its report to Mayor Daley. It recommended the CPD institute a “fully computerized” early warning system in order to identify officers and groups of officers who engaged in misconduct. The Commission stated:

Virtually every major city police department in the country has recognized the need for a mechanism which alerts command personnel that an officer may be involved in a pattern of misconduct. The premise is simple: small problems become big ones if left unattended.

The “need for a sophisticated and thorough early warning system,” the Commission noted, was illustrated by the CPD’s failure to detect patterns of misconduct by the Austin and Gresham officers whose crimes had precipitated the scandal. The seven Austin officers had a total of 93 complaints against them during their careers, only two of which had been sustained. The three Gresham officers had a total of 40 complaints during their careers, only three of which had been sustained. Had the CPD had an effective early warning system, the Commission concluded, it could have prevented some of the crimes committed by these officers.

Upon receiving the Commission’s report, Mayor Daley characterized its recommendations as “an excellent blueprint for change.”

To be continued…

Kicking the Pigeon #12: The Traylor Case

The stunning disparity between the thousands of complaints that come to OPS annually and the handful of disciplinary actions that emerge is one perspective on the quality of its investigations. Another is provided by the occasional legal proceeding against an officer for misconduct. Bond’s lawyers cite several cases in which it was disclosed that the defendant had a thick file of past complaints judged “not sustained” by OPS. Among the most telling is a case that arose out of an incident at Stateway Gardens in the early days of the Stateway Civil Rights Project.

On July 9, 2001, Professor Futterman and several law students were using The View From The Ground office on the ground floor of 3544 S. State to interview witnesses about an incident several months earlier in which police officers had struck a young man with their vehicle and then arrested one of our colleagues, Kenya Richmond, when he attempted to document what had happened. There was a commotion outside. We ran out to State Street and found a middle-aged man on a bicycle pinned against a fence by a police squad car. Two white uniformed officers stood by the vehicle surrounded by a fast growing crowd of curious and in many cases outraged residents. Within a few minutes, the crowd had swelled to about a hundred. We immediately called 911 and set to work documenting the incident.

The name of the man trapped between the police car and fence proved to be Nevles Traylor. He was moaning in pain and distress. According to witnesses, the driver of the squad car—Officer Raymond Piwnicki—had deliberately struck Traylor’s bicycle from behind as he rode across the grounds of the development. Piwnicki had then, they said, jumped out of the vehicle and hit Traylor repeatedly in the head, as his partner—Officer Robert Smith—looked on. Piwnicki and Smith were from the Special Operations Section of the CPD. Among the witnesses were several officers from Public Housing South. I spoke with one of them who was as outraged by the incident as any of the residents I talked with. Another public housing officer exchanged sharp words with Piwnicki, then used wire cutters to extricate Traylor from under the police car.

Eventually, an ambulance came and removed Traylor. He was subsequently charged with felony criminal charges—two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver—that required, if convicted, a mandatory minimum sentence of four years and allowed a maximum sentence of fifteen years. Over the next two years, the Mandel Clinic represented him first in the criminal case and then in a federal civil rights suit against Officers Piwnicki and Smith.

In the criminal case, Piwnicki and Smith testified they had observed Traylor engage in a hand-to-hand drug transaction and had undertaken pursuit in the course of which he had fallen off his bicycle. Futterman and his law student colleagues demonstrated that it was physically impossible to see what the officers claimed to have seen from the location roughly a block away where they placed themselves. They argued that the officers struck Traylor with their vehicle in an act of “casual cruelty,” then fabricated evidence and falsely arrested him to cover up their abuse.

In the course of their investigation, Futterman and his students contacted the officer with whom I had spoken at the scene. The officer was sympathetic but apologized to Futterman, “You don’t want me to testify. If I do, I’ll spend the rest of my career paying for it—worrying about friendly fire, worrying that when I call for backup no one will come.” Futterman did not call the officer to testify.

The code of silence, it is important to remember, is not simply a matter of professional solidarity. It is ultimately enforced by violence and fear.

The judge found that Piwnicki and Smith arrested Traylor without probable cause, in violation of his constitutional rights, and dismissed all charges against Traylor. A federal civil rights suit against Piwnicki and Smith was subsequently settled.

The Traylor case provides a revealing glimpse of OPS investigatory practices in several respects:

  • Despite the presence of dozens of witnesses (including police officers) who observed some part of the incident—an incident that occurred half a block from their office—OPS investigators found the Traylor complaint “not sustained.”
  • It was disclosed in the course of the trial that Piwnicki had, within the seven years prior to the incident, accumulated fifty-six citizen complaints. Only one of these complaints had been sustained by OPS. Apart from this one instance, the CPD had not disciplined Piwnicki or identified him as needing behavioral intervention.
  • A Cook County Circuit Court judge having found that Piwnicki and Smith had violated Traylor’s constitutional rights, OPS did not see fit to reopen the complaint for further investigation.

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What will we learn, as Bond v. Utreras unfolds, about the past history of complaints against members of the skullcap crew? Bond’s lawyers state that crew members “have amassed scores of abuse complaints within four years of their abuse of Ms. Bond.” They do not disclose the precise number of complaints, but those numbers, whatever they are, can be assumed to be depressed for several reasons:

  • As a general matter, there are strong disincentives to file a complaint. OPS does no active outreach. Citizens cannot complain anonymously. It is standard procedure to disclose the identity of the complaining citizen to the officer named in the complaint. After filing, complainants are required to execute an affidavit affirming under oath that the statements they have given are true. A reasonable requirement on its face, it carries the implied threat, in the context of OPS’s record of very rarely sustaining complaints, that complaining might expose one to having the investigation turned against one. Perhaps the biggest disincentive is the knowledge that it is extraordinarily unlikely a complaint will result in meaningful discipline.
  • Members of the skullcap crew are said by residents to frustrate efforts to identify them, refusing to provide their names and badge numbers. They are well known to members of the community but not by name. Because Bond could not at the time provide their names, her OPS complaints may not even be included in the files of Officers Seinitz, Savickas, Utreras, Schoeff, and Stegmiller.
  • Victims and witnesses of police abuse say they fear reprisals from the officers who abused them. Several report being threatened. Harold Hall, a public defender who had in the course of his work noticed possible patterns of abuse by members of the skullcap crew, filed a complaint to IAD that Officer Utreras had threatened him. Hall stated that Utreras had approached him in the courtroom and, within the hearing of two Assistant State’s Attorneys, had said, “I hear you’ve been badmouthing me.” Utreras then, according to Hall, delivered a veiled threat. “I better not catch you in my neighborhood” (i.e., the South State Street corridor of public housing), he said. “You know how those traffic stops go.” If a police officer is prepared to threaten an officer of the court in open court, imagine the ease with which he would intimidate residents of an abandoned community such as Stateway Gardens.

How many additional complaints would one find, if one searched the files for street names such as “Macintosh,” or closely correlated the physical descriptions given of unnamed officers with assignment sheets and other available records at the time of the alleged abuses? How many additional complaints would have been made, if citizens had confidence OPS would vigorously investigate them? How many complaints would there be, if victims and witnesses were not vulnerable to intimidation and reprisals?

Despite the many complaints against the crew individually and collectively, Bond’s lawyers assert, crew members have never been disciplined for abuse or identified as in need of intervention. Had the City had an effective monitoring and disciplinary system in place, they argue, members of the crew would never have come to Bond’s door.

To be continued…

Kicking the Pigeon #11: The Logic of Impunity

The police station from Stateway GardensThe administrative headquarters of the Chicago Police Department seen from a vacant unit at Stateway Gardens.

In one of their briefs, the City lawyers characterize Diane Bond’s allegations as “a series of horrendous acts.” That the alleged acts are serious crimes is not in dispute. The City’s thesis is that they did not occur. In one sense, this would seem a difficult defense to sustain, in view of the fact that there are multiple witnesses to three of the four incidents, as well as various documentary records that lend support to Bond’s allegations. In another sense, though, this defense strategy, however problematic on its face, is aided immensely by the larger patterns of denial—by the powerful gravitational field of not-knowing—in which the case arises and will be heard.

Those patterns are at once the central focus of the argument advanced by Bond’s lawyers and the biggest impediment to its success. That argument turns on demonstrating how not-knowing is operationalized and institutionalized. It unfolds in three steps:

  • The City has “a de facto policy, practice and custom of failing to properly supervise, monitor, discipline, counsel, and otherwise control its police officers.”
  • The officers who repeatedly violated Bond’s constitutional rights were aware of this “de facto policy, practice and custom.” They knew they could act with impunity.
  • The City knew its disciplinary and monitoring practices, particularly with respect to repeat offenders, were inadequate. It knew it lacked an effective early warning system. And it knew repeat offenders would, as a consequence, “continue to abuse with impunity.” Its decision not to fix a system it had long known was inadequate and its disregard for the predictable consequences of that decision constitute “conscious, deliberate, and reckless indifference to Ms. Bond’s rights and safety.”

The institutionalization of denial is a complex phenomenon. It is enforced on the ground by the “code of silence” among police officers. It is defended against legal challenges by City lawyers who pursue litigation strategies designed to protect the CPD’s internal processes against any possibility of judicial or public scrutiny. And it is heavily subsidized by the City which pays out millions of dollars each year to settle police misconduct cases that would otherwise go to trial. At its center are the CPD’s investigatory arms—the Internal Affairs Division (IAD), which investigates complaints of corruption and other forms of misconduct not involving the use of force, and the Office of Professional Standards (OPS), which investigates excessive force complaints such as those in the Bond case.

The operation of OPS is partially obscured by secrecy; it lacks transparency as an institution. Much of what is known about it is anecdotal in the sense that it arises out of individual cases. One can only wonder what an independent audit of OPS files would reveal about its internal workings. Through the processes of discovery and ultimately trial, Bond v. Utreras promises to add significantly to our knowledge of how OPS’s investigatory machinery works—and doesn’t work. For the moment, drawing on a variety of sources, it is possible to sketch the broad outlines of that machinery.

As described in the CPD’s annual report, an OPS investigation will have one of four possible outcomes:

  • Unfounded: “the complaint was not based on facts as shown by the investigation, or the reported incident did not occur.”
  • Exonerated: “the incident occurred, but the action taken by the officer(s) was deemed lawful, reasonable and proper.”
  • Not sustained: “ the allegation is supported by insufficient evidence which could not be used to prove/disprove the allegation.”
  • Sustained: “the allegation was supported by sufficient evidence to justify disciplinary action.”

The vast majority of complaints are “not sustained.” The reason, according to City representatives, is that many cases turn on the word of the complaining citizen against the word of the officer in the absence of corroborating evidence.

Critics have long questioned how vigorously OPS pursues available leads. For example, Diane Bond’s complaints in connection with the April 13 and April 28 incidents were “not sustained,” despite the fact Bond had provided OPS with physical descriptions of the officers, the license plate of the vehicle they were driving, and the names of witnesses.

In 2003, in Garcia v. City of Chicago, a federal civil rights suit against the City involving allegations of abuse by an off-duty officer, the plaintiff put into evidence OPS investigations of excessive force complaints against off-duty officers over a twenty-one month period. After a jury trial, Judge James Holderman characterized the OPS investigations as “incomplete, inconsistent, delayed, and slanted in favor of the officers.”

OPS has an inherently difficult mission. Police misconduct tends to take place in the shadows. And the darkness is deepened by the “code of silence” among officers. The Bond complaint describes the code:

According to standard practice, police officers refuse to report instances of police misconduct, despite their obligation under police regulations to do so. Police officers either remain silent or give false and misleading information during official investigations in order to protect themselves and fellow officers from internal discipline, civil liability, and criminal charges.

In order to bring misconduct to light, the CPD would need to move aggressively against this institutional culture. It would need to bring a high degree of skepticism to the process and be alert to the gang phenomenon that so often figures in police misconduct. It would need to create incentives and disincentives to encourage cooperation. And it would need to provide meaningful forms of protection for officers who come forward to report on the misconduct of fellow officers.

The CPD does none of these things. OPS uncritically gives corroborative weight to the statements of other officers at the scene. It appears rarely, if ever, to recommend that an officer who witnessed an incident of misconduct by a fellow officer be charged with failure to report a crime. And it is subject to a City policy that bars the CPD from transferring whistleblowers from their units in order to protect them against retaliation. Rather than penetrating the code of silence, OPS practices mesh with it to form a system that seems designed to produce judgments of “not sustained.”

Many of the constraints under which OPS operates are dictated by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the police union, and are embodied in its contract with the City. For example, OPS is sharply limited in the use it can make of an officer’s prior history of complaints. Complaints alleging criminal conduct are kept for seven years; lesser complaints for five years or in some instances for a year. This makes it difficult for investigators to track patterns of misconduct over time.

The FOP’s aggressive representation of its members in contract negotiations is to be expected. The question is whether concessions to the union enable the City to blunt the effectiveness of internal investigations, while claiming, “The union made us do it.”

During 2001 – 2003, OPS sustained roughly 5% of the 7,613 excessive force complaints it received. Critics have argued that even this small number is inflated. For one thing, OPS sometimes sustains a complaint for reasons other than the brutality charge. For example, investigators may find that the officer did not properly execute the required paperwork, and that becomes the basis for the sustained judgment rather than the original charge of excessive force.

The small number of cases sustained by OPS are then further reduced by the Police Board. Appointed by the Mayor, the Police Board reviews cases in which the superintendent recommends termination or suspension for more than thirty days and cases in which officers appeal suspensions between six and thirty days. (In suspensions of five days or less, there is no appeal.) The Board frequently exonerates the officers brought before it or reduces the penalties against them. It does not have the authority to increase penalties.

Procedural protections and appeal processes are of course justified to protect the rights of officers accused of wrongdoing. The question is whether the procedures of OPS and the Police Board, taken together, do not have the effect of largely crippling the investigatory process.

The character of the City’s machinery for investigating brutality complaints is most tellingly revealed by what it yields. The amended complaint in the Bond case summarizes the results of OPS investigations, after Police Board review, for a three year period:

From 2001 through 2003, the City received at least 7,610 brutality complaints against Chicago police officers. The City imposed meaningful discipline in only 13 of those 7,610 complaints: 6 officers were fired and 7 suspended for 30 days or more. In other words, between 2001 and 2003, a Chicago police officer charged with criminal brutality had only a 0.08 (significantly less than a one in a thousand) chance of being fired, and a 0.17% (less than one-fifth of 1 percent) chance of having any meaningful discipline being imposed.

On the basis of such numbers, it is clear that officers who engage in misconduct have little reason to fear they will be disciplined as the result of an OPS investigation. They have even less reason to be concerned about criminal prosecution. Over the fifteen years prior to the alleged abuse of Bond, roughly 2,500 to 3,000 complaints charging police brutality were made each year. During that period, according to the amended complaint, “there was only one instance of an Illinois state criminal prosecution of a Chicago police officer for brutality committed while on duty, as a result of the Chicago Police Department’s referral of a complaint to the Cook Country State’s Attorney’s Office.”

The City has not yet responded to the argument of the amended complaint that the abuse of Bond resulted from systemic policies and practices of the CPD. In light of what is known about the deficiencies of the CPD’s monitoring and disciplinary system, how will it attempt to counter the conclusion that abusive officers indulge their sadism and corruption with impunity, secure in the knowledge that, if challenged by the citizens they abuse, they can say it never happened and rely on the City’s machinery of denial to protect them?

To be continued…

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Tomorrow The View From The Ground will resume publication of “Kicking the Pigeon.” This narrative inquiry into police abuses in Chicago public housing focuses on the case of Bond v. Utreras, et al, a federal civil rights suit brought by Diane Bond, a resident of Stateway Gardens, against five police officers and the City of Chicago. Ten installments have been posted. The final seven installments will appear over the next two weeks. Thereafter, we will publish occasional updates, as the Bond case unfolds.

Six months have elapsed since we posted the last installment of “Kicking the Pigeon.” In one sense, little has happened during this period. The case has progressed slowly. In another sense, though, a great deal has happened.

At the national level, Hurricane Katrina, like a great flash of lightning, illuminated the deep racism and structures of exclusion that deform American society. For those of us working in abandoned communities such as Stateway Gardens, the conditions exposed by Katrina were not surprising. Nor would anyone familiar with Chicago public housing policy be surprised by the way various interests seized upon those conditions, once exposed, as rationales for profiteering.

Yet Katrina was revelatory. The strength of the gale that forced perceptions (if only for an extended moment) of conditions of abandonment also made palpable the immense counterforce necessary to hold those perceptions at bay on an ongoing basis. It provided a measure, like the Richter Scale for earthquakes or the Saffir-Simpson Scale for hurricanes, of the energy that must be expended not to know what we know.

A central theme of the forthcoming installments of “Kicking the Pigeon” is how not-knowing is operationalized. The defendants in the Bond case—Officers Utreras, Stegmiller, Savickas, Schoeff, and Seinitz—deny they had any contact with Diane Bond on any of the four occasions she alleges they abused her. Several recent developments suggest that such an edifice of denial requires considerable maintenance:

  • On June 13, 2005, I received a subpoena from the City law department in connection with the Bond case. It demanded that I “produce copies of any and all documents, notes, reports, writings, computer files, audio tapes, video tapes, or any written or recorded item” in my possession regarding any of twenty-four named individuals (members of the Stateway Gardens community and police officers, as well as an expert witness for the plaintiff and her attorney) “and/or any allegations of misconduct by any police officer” at Stateway Gardens. I have refused to comply with the subpoena on multiple grounds; the First Amendment chief among them.

  • In the course of the discovery process in the Bond case, a host of issues have arisen between the parties. Ms. Bond’s attorneys charge that the City lawyers have pursued a litigation strategy designed to frustrate the possibility of meaningful judicial or public scrutiny of Chicago Police Department practices. The issues that have arisen in the context of discovery are now before Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys who has indicated he will rule on them within the month.

  • On September 7, 2005, the day before he was to be deposed by City lawyers, Diane Bond’s son Willie Murphy was arrested by a team of officers that included defendants Utreras, Stegmiller, and Savickas. According to Murphy, one of the arresting officers repeatedly beat him and two other men, all handcuffed, with a heavy extension cord, while making references to the whipping of black slaves.

  • In an emergency motion presented to Judge Joan Lefkow on February 4, 2006, Diane Bond reported that on January 31 she was stopped on the grounds of Stateway Gardens by a police officer who accused her of having drugs on her and searched her. When the officer told her name to a second officer, he replied, “Oh, Diane Bond—from ‘Kicking the Pigeon.’” The second officer ordered her to get into his police car and interrogated her. “You know too much,” he told her. “I could kill you right now.”

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In response to “Kicking the Pigeon,” readers have contacted The View and asked, “What can we do?” Spread the word, we have replied. Give us your critical feedback by participating in the comments section (recently redesigned by webmaster David Eads). Help us create a forum for sustained critical engagement with these issues.

I have sensed a degree of disappointment with this reply, as if patterns of abuse as grave as those described in the series demand large actions in response and anything less is token. With all due respect, this logic aids and abets not-knowing. Because there is nothing large we can do, we do nothing. Because we do nothing, we cannot bear the burden of perception and so turn away from what we know—from what is knowable—about assaults on human dignity in our time, in our place, in our name.

“Kicking the Pigeon” is part of an ongoing campaign that employs human rights reporting and strategic litigation to press for police accountability. Informed public discourse—sustained against the undertow of denial—is critical to the success of this campaign. We need your help. Together, we have the power to prevent human rights abuses that will otherwise occur.

So, again, we urge: If you find the reporting and analysis in “Kicking the Pigeon” persuasive, encourage others to read it. If you have information or observations to add, share them. If you find our work flawed, challenge and improve it.

Take care,Jamie Kalven

PS: In response to requests from a number of readers, we are resuming our old practice of sending the stories we post on The View concurrently to subscribers as emails.