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…