Be careful what you wish for

Daley has once again outsmarted his critics by removing the Office of Professional Standards (OPS), the office that investigates civilian complaints against Chicago Police officers, from being part of the Chicago Police Department. Daley authored an ordinance that was introduced at the Chicago City Council hearing on Wednesday, May 9. This is similar to what occurred in the early 1990s when Daley removed the idea of community policing from community groups and then introduced legislation that resulted in CAPS. This ordinance as written makes some subtle changes to the procedures involved in the reporting of the investigations by OPS, but does almost nothing to guarantee that the quality of the investigations will improve. The largest complaint by critics of OPS and the accountability system within the Chicago Police Department has been that the investigations are biased and purposely completed in an improper fashion to shield officers from discipline. Some of the window dressing that the Mayor included in the new ordinance follow:

  • The administrator of OPS will be appointed to a four-year term and can only be removed for cause.
  • Once the OPS administrator recommends discipline for an officer and if the Superintendent of Police disagrees with the recommendation, the Superintendent must do so in writing.
  • When the Superintendent and the Administrator continue to disagree on discipline, they must consult a three member panel consisting of members of the Police Board to make a final decision.
  • The OPS administrator must publish reports that detail the number of investigations, their status, and reasons why any investigation is still not completed if open longer then 6 months.
  • OPS must publish a report for every investigation that they complete discussing the reasons supporting their findings. (The contents of this report will be limited by any collect bargaining agreements or the Illinois Freedom of Information Act that may limit the material that may be released.)
  • OPS will now have subpoena power to force access to documents and motivate officers to give testimony.

While these changes seem to sound good on the surface, no progress has really been made in any aspect for which investigations are completed, who the investigators are, and how tied the OPS Administrator is to the Police Department or to the Daley Administration. We have seen how political appointees like those that completed the Burge torture investigation – Robert Egan and Edward Boyle, investigate misconduct by the police.

For as long as OPS has existed there has been a great disdain for their efforts in many communities throughout Chicago. Citizens have felt that OPS failed to take their concerns to heart and either never investigated their claims or the investigation was only of a cursory nature. Recently in a blog posted by Jamie Kalven at invisibleinstitute.com we were able to discern some statistics from internal Chicago Police Department numbers about the effectiveness of the OPS investigations.

When a civilian files a complaint against a Chicago Police officer, a complaint registry (CR) is filed. The CR is filed and then investigated by the OPS. This investigation can be resolved in one of four ways:

  • Unfounded: The complaint was not based on facts as shown by the investigation or the reported incident did not occur.
  • Exonerated: The incident did occurred, but the actions taken by the officers was deemed lawful, reasonable, and proper.
  • Not Sustained: The incident 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 ruled unfounded because it seems little or no effort is put into investigating the incidents. Also, many of the complaints actually end up being the word of the civilian against the word of the officer. OPS does not have a track record of believing the civilian. The chart below clearly details how much effort OPS and the Chicago Police Department put into investigating civilian complaints.

Sustained Rates of C.R. Investigations from 2002 to 2004, by Type of Offense*

Offense

Sustained

Total CRs

% Sustained

Brutality

82

5357

1.53%

Illegal Search

12

3827

0.34%

Sexual Harassment, Abuse, Rape

22

111

19.82%

Racial Abuse

2

183

1.64%

Planting Evidence, False Arrest

4

661

0.61%

Total

124

10149

1.22%

*Source: Jamie Kalven’s blog at www.invisibileinstitute.org.

The activists that brought forward the concept of true citizen oversight on the actions of the Chicago Police Department failed to win the battle in the media over how this organization should be created and who it should report to. For true civilian review of the police, an agency needs to be created as free from political control as possible. It has now been revealed that one of Superintendent Cline’s reasons for failing to discipline the Area 2 Gun Team for their participation in a bar fight was because Cline was good friends with the father of one of the officers involved.

Daley has talked about speeding up investigations that OPS conducts. From the chart above you can see the problem is not the speed for which the investigation is completed, but the integrity of the investigation and its findings. We cannot possibly have effective oversight on police actions if we are going to only sustain 1 in every 100 complaints made by civilians against police officers. There has been little deterrent in the operations of OPS towards the brutality of the Chicago Police and there is little reason to believe that Daley’s latest moves are going to create any. In fact, Daley may have just single handily created a new patronage army for his next election in four years. You want that promotion within OPS you better get out the vote for my corrupt aldermen.

The latest ordinance introduced does separate the office from the Department but still does nothing to change the language of the current collective bargaining agreement. This agreement is between the City of Chicago and the union representing the Chicago Police officers under the rank of Sergeant, some 8000 plus officers. The agreement spells out in detail what actions the Department and the City can take against officers. This language has not been addressed in the new ordinance introduced by the Mayor.

UPDATE: The CJP has been notified that negotiations are under way to rework the ordinance that Daley introduced. We will keep you posted with developments as we hear about them.