Separate Messages. One True Agenda

To fully make sense of an agenda that is at the heart of the actions of an institution you first must consider all the actions of the institution that are simultaneously taking place. In the case of the City of Chicago I am talking about how they are beating a consistent drum of openness when addressing how the new Office of Professional Standards (OPS) will be created and run; while at the same time the City has been fighting to keep records involving citizen complaints against officers sealed in Federal Court. The Chicago City Counsel is expected to vote on an ordinance reorganizing OPS on Thursday July 19th.

At the heart of the issue in Federal Court is whether or not documents created through the operations of OPS, including citizen’s complaints against officers of the Chicago Police Department, should remain closed to public inspection. The documents in question were turned over by the City to lawyers representing Diane Bond, (read her horrifying story here), in the course of discovery as part of her Federal Civil suit against officers and the City.

Subsequent to the suit being settled, journalist Jamie Kalven made a motion in Federal Court to request that documents in question be made public. The idea being that the public need to regulate the actions of police officers at work in their community outweighed the embarrassment that might be felt by some officers who are having their actions made public. The City fought to keep these documents out of the public view. (Read Kalven’s motion and the City’s response to Lefkow’s decision.) Judge Joan Lefkow’s decision was a strong victory for pro transparency forces while also being an eloquent anthem for why openness is required if there is to be true police accountability. As of Monday July 16th the City has appealed Judge Lefkow’s ruling and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has granted a stay to keep the records closed unitl they reach a decision on the merits of the City’s appeal.

While the City has been fighting to keep documents out of the public discourse, they have also been attempting to restructure OPS in a fashion they say will be more open. City Corporation Counsel Mara Georges has been shopping the new ordnance (read about the version originally introduced to the City Counsel by Mayor Daley) that Daley is trying to get passed to many of their previous adversaries attempting to gain a consensus about how the OPS should be structured and who the organization should be answerable to. Their message has been very consistent about how this new ordinance will create a very open and publicly answerable institution unlike the previous incarnation.

Both the City’s attempt to create a more open OPS and the City’s fight to keep documents closed are happening simultaneously. The Daley administration has to date kept the duplicity of these actions from appearing together in the same news article, the same paper, or news cast; in fact almost no coverage of Kalven’s fight to open these documents has made the local press with the exception of the Chicago Daily Law Journal, read them here: 1, 2. (Update: Both the Suntimes and the Tribune have articles in today’s paper covering this issue.)

It is extremely important for people to know that while the City is talking about a new day in openness in the police accountability mechanisms they are fighting to keep the business as usual practices alive. The City promises reports about how many cases OPS is handling and summary reports on each case that will be publicly available when the new OPS is created. The manner in which cases are investigated and who is doing the investigation will not change under this new version of OPS. I guess we are to expect them to continue to create statistics detailed in the chart below. (To get an explanation of the process involving how citizen’s complaints are handled currently, read this).

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.

What the City is fighting to keep closed in Federal Court:

  1. A list of police officers during a specific time period against whom more than ten complaints register (“CR”) files had been opened, identifying the officers by name and the CR files by number. *
  2. A list of those officers identified in (1){the first bullet point} who had been referred to CPD’s early intervention programs. *
  1. A list of those officers identified who in (1) who had been assigned to CPD’s Public Housing Unit. *
  1. The employee complaint histories of the defendant officers. *
  1. CR files against the defendant officers. *
  1. CR investigative files initiated by complaints made by Bond. *

* Source: Decision by Judge Joan Lefkow, United States District Court District for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, July 6, 2007, p. 2

If you take into consideration the numbers presented in the chart above it is easy to understand why the City does not want internal records that will most likely demonstrate the high level of incompetence in OPS investigations, or worse, their complete disregard for victims of police abuse. The Chicago City Counsel must take into consideration all the actions of the Daley administration prior to voting on this new ordinance. Transparency must start at the start and not be a fleeting ideal lost to the bureaucracy that is the Chicago Police Department and the City of Chicago.