On January 1, I published an op-ed piece in the Chicago Sun-Times on Mayor Daley’s Commission on Police Integrity. Appointed in 1997 in the wake of a police scandal in the Austin and Gresham Districts, the Commission was charged with investigating the underlying causes of the scandal and making recommendations for reform. The Mayor welcomed the Commission’s report as “an excellent blueprint for change.” Yet nearly a decade later, I argued, the City has still not implemented the Commission’s primary recommendations.
In a letter to the Sun-Times published on January 9, Deputy Police Superintendent Debra Kirby, the head of the Internal Affairs Division, responded to my piece:
Jamie Kalven’s Jan. 1 commentary leaves citizens with the impression that the Chicago Police Department has done nothing since 1997 to address the issue of police misconduct. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of the blue-ribbon committee’s recommendations for improved integrity and accountability have been fully implemented.
Apart from repeatedly asserting the CPD’s “commitment” to professionalism and accountability, Kirby makes several points. I will respond to each in turn.
* * * *
Both the Office of Professional Standards and the Internal Affairs Division actively investigate and respond to complaints regarding officer misconduct.
My point is not that the CPD has no systems for supervising, monitoring and disciplining officers. It is that those systems are ineffective. In an earlier Sun-Times op-ed piece, published on September 16, 2006, I used the CPD’s own statistics to demonstrate this. Since then, the CPD’s data has been further analyzed by Dr. Steven Whitman, an epidemiologist who was an expert witness for the plaintiff in Bond v. Utreras. (Statistical tables generated by Dr. Whitman are available here.) Among his findings:
- During 2002-2004, citizens filed 10,149 complaints alleging police abuses in the categories of excessive force, illegal arrest, illegal searches, racial abuse and sexual abuse. Only 124 of these complaints were sustained–slightly more than 1 percent.
- If “meaningful discipline” is defined as a suspension of 7 days or more, only 19 of the 10,149 complaints resulted in “meaningful discipline”–a rate of less than 2 per 1,000 complaints.
- According to a U. S. Department of Justice report, the national sustained rate for excessive force complaints filed with “large municipal police departments” in 2002 was 8 percent. By contrast, the CPD’s sustained rate during 2004, the most recent year for which it has released figures, was less than half of one percent (0.48%). In other words, excessive force–brutality–complaints are 94 percent less likely to be sustained by the CPD than they are by other large municipal police departments across the country.
- Contrary to Kirby’s assertion that the CPD has “improved integrity and accountability” in the years since 1997, the percentage of sustained complaints steadily declined during the period 1999-2004. The sustained rate for all civilian abuse complaints decreased from 3.7% in 1999 to 0.6% in 2004–a decline of 84%. The sustained rate for excessive force complaints decreased from 4.8% to 0.5%–a decline of 90%.
- The odds that a CPD officer who abuses a citizen will receive meaningful discipline are in reality even less than 2 in 1,000–substantially less. Citizens who believe they have been victims of police abuse often do not file formal complaints. Among the reasons are fear of reprisals and distrust of the investigatory process. A national survey conducted by the U. S. Department of Justice found that only 10% of those who believed they suffered excessive force in an encounter with the police reported the incident to the agency employing the officer. If we use that baseline, an incident in Chicago in which a citizen believes the police used excessive force will result in meaningful discipline in 2 in 10,000 cases.
These numbers evoke the conditions of impunity under which abusive CPD officers operate. It is hard to believe, given such odds, that an officer with criminal tendencies would be deterred from wrongdoing by fear of being investigated and punished.
* * * *
To be clear, we have remained committed to rooting out bad cops who violate the public’s trust. The recent arrests of Special Operations Section officers underscores that commitment.
The CPD has repeatedly claimed that the SOS case and other recent indictments prove it has adequate systems in place to identify and discipline rogue officers. These indictments are not, however, evidence the system is working. They are evidence it is broken.
The internal investigation of the SOS officers was initiated after lawyers in the State’s Attorney’s Office informed the CPD that the officers in question were consistently missing court appearances. It was not triggered by the CPD’s supervisory and monitoring systems but by the intervention of another agency. It would be interesting to know how many citizen complaints the CPD had received over the years regarding these officers as individuals and as a group.
Similarly, the tactical officers in the Englewood district who recently pled guilty on charges arising from their practice of robbing drug dealers were not brought down by internal CPD mechanisms of accountability. The case was precipitated by federal agents who observed the officers interacting with drug dealers they had under surveillance. The agents’ interest was piqued, when they noticed a Fraternal Order of Police bumper sticker on the officers’ vehicle. One of these officers, it has been reported, had amassed 31 citizen complaints within the two years prior to his indictment, while another had amassed 24.
This is just one of many high-profile criminal cases over the years in which officer defendants proved to have high numbers of citizen complaints alleging abuses consistent with the pattern involved in the criminal case but had never received meaningful intervention and/or discipline.
Again and again, the CPD has responded the same way to cases such as these that carry the threat of a widening police scandal. It announces that bad cops will not be tolerated and that vigorous investigations are ongoing. The Mayor may appoint a special body to address the problem such as the Commission on Police Integrity in 1997 or the current panel advising him on selection of a director for the Office of Professional Standards. Then, when public attention wanes, the status quo is restored without any meaningful reforms having been instituted.
Consider, for example, the recent verdict in the case against the City brought by Michael Casali, an ATF agent, and his wife Diane Klipfel, a former AFT agent. In 1992, these federal agents reported criminal acts by Officer Joseph Miedzianowski to their supervisors. Described by federal prosecutors as “the most corrupt cop in Chicago history,” Miedzianowski is currently serving a life sentence for running a Miami-Chicago drug ring out of the Gang Crimes unit. By the time he was finally arrested in 1998, he had amassed more than 40 complaints; among them, 20 brutality complaints, none of which had resulted in meaningful intervention or punishment. In their suit, Casali and Klipfel charged that the CPD retaliated against them rather than investigating their complaints, allowing Miedzianowski and his cronies to terrorize them. After a five-week trial that included testimony from Superintendent Phil Cline, the jury found in favor of the couple and awarded them $9.75 million. In post-trial interviews, jurors made it clear that the crux of the case, as one of them put it, was the CPD’s “incompetent, lazy and overall negligent” investigation of Miedzianowski. Another remarked, “What investigation did the Chicago Police Department do? Mike and Diane were wronged. It was the city’s policies that created that.”
* * * *
In my op-ed piece, I noted that the Commission on Police Integrity recommended that the CPD institute a “fully computerized” early warning system to identify officers engaged in misconduct and that it emphasized the importance of tracking patterns with respect to groups of officers as well as individuals.
While we appreciate Kalven’s recommendations to track patterns of complaints against police officers . . . readers should know that we are already doing so . . .
Again, the issue is not whether or not the City has a system. It is the adequacy of that system. The City has repeatedly declared it is in the process of instituting a state-of-the-art computerized system for tracking patterns of misconduct. Technology may well be forcing the City’s hand: it is increasingly hard to justify the use of high tech tools to identify criminal patterns in the general population, while refusing to do the same with respect to criminals in uniform. There is, however, no evidence such a system has been implemented. What we know about the system currently in place is that it yields outcomes such as those described above. And we know that police officials responsible for investigating citizen complaints have acknowledged that the CPD does not currently track complaints by groups of officers. In other words, it chooses not to know things within its power to know about patterns of abuse.
Viewed against this background, Dr. Whitman’s analysis of CPD data regarding officers who have amassed unusually large numbers of complaints is telling. Among his findings:
- During the period May 2001 – May 2006, 10,387 officers had 0 to 3 complaints. Another 2,451 officers had 4 to 10 complaints. 662 officers had more than 10 complaints.
- The 662 “repeaters” were named in 10,733 complaints. Only 236 or 2.2% of these complaints were sustained.
- Only 22 of the 10,733 complaints or 0.2% resulted in “meaningful discipline”–i.e., a suspension of 7 days or more.
- Of the 662 “repeaters,” only 25% ever received any discipline, however nominal, while 75% were never disciplined at all.
- Among the “repeaters,” 33 officers were named in 30 or more complaints within a five year period. Of these, four had 50 or more complaints. Taken together, these 33 officers had, at a minimum, well over 1,000 complaints. Yet only 6 of these complaints were sustained and only one resulted in meaningful punishment.
- The CPD has two programs that it describes as its “early warning system”: the Behavior Intervention System and the Personnel Concerns Program. The purpose of an early warning system is to identify officers in need of intervention before, in the words of the Commission on Police Integrity, “small problems become big ones.” It is a measure of the inadequacy of the CPD’s early warning system that only 89 (13.4%) of the 662 “repeaters” have been identified by these programs. More than 86% “repeaters” have not been identified as needing intervention; among them, officers who amassed 50 or more complaints over a five year period.
* * * *
The Commission recommended that the CPD provide closer supervision of tactical units assigned to enforcing narcotics laws, because this is the setting in which most abuses occur. According to Kirby:
. . . readers should know that we . . . have reorganized citywide response units to provide closer supervision with better tactical responses to monitoring officers and their actions.
I am not altogether sure what this means and whether it translates into more stringent accountability standards and practices. I do know that Superintendent Phil Cline stated, in the wake of the SOS indictments, that members of that unit would be placed under closer supervision. He also said he did not think it necessary to disband SOS altogether, as had been done to Gang Crimes in 2000 after Miedzianowski was convicted on racketeering charges for running a drug ring out of the unit. The underlying issue here goes to the deployment strategy adopted by the City. Instead of strengthening the units based in particular districts, it has opted to create special units that operate city-wide with a high degree of autonomy. A byproduct of this strategy, as we have seen with Gang Crimes and SOS, is that these units are relatively unaccountable and prone to high levels of abuse. What does it mean when Cline and Kirby say there will be “closer supervision” of these units? Will supervisors have access to effective tools for enforcing accountability? Will they be directed to make vigorous use of those tools?
* * * *
. . . Kalven claims that officers who are accused of misconduct have a “2-in-1,000” chance of receiving what he considers “meaningful punishment.” There is no question that Supt. Cline has prioritized the commitment to integrity, honesty and professionalism within the Chicago Police Department. For the record, Supt. Cline has recommended the terminations of more than 100 police officers—recommendations that are governed and decided solely by an independent police board.
My statement that officers accused of misconduct had a 99.8% chance of not receiving meaningful discipline is not based on the full universe of allegations of misconduct but on complaints involving direct abuse of citizens (excessive force, illegal search, etc.). There are a range of other sorts of administrative infractions and matters of non-performance that do not figure in this analysis.
Kirby responds by citing the number of officers Cline has recommended terminating during his three-and-a-half-year tenure. It is not surprising that in a force of 13,600 the superintendent would have occasion to recommend the firing for all causes of 100 officers over more than three years. This is, however, unresponsive to the point I am raising about the CPD’s ineffectiveness in responding to citizen complaints of abuse. How many officers has Cline recommended terminating on the grounds that they abused citizens?
* * * *
Kirby closes her letter with these words:
Our mission and challenge are to discipline effectively and fairly without compromising the public’s trust or the morale of the more than 13,600 decent and hardworking men and women who serve this department and city every day.
That is indeed what is at stake. A small percentage of the police force commit the vast majority of the abuse. Allowed to operate with impunity, these “few bad apples” do great damage to both the public’s trust and the morale of the rest of the force.