The recent resignation of Tisa Morris as Head of the Office of Professional Standards, (OPS), provides an historic opportunity to redesign the accountability processes within the Chicago Police Department. As a strong first move the much-maligned OPS must be scraped in favor of an independent organization that can operate outside the political reach of the city and county hierarchy.
Since its inception in 1973 OPS has consistently failed to adequately rein in the actions of brutal or corrupt officers. The OPS was created by former police superintendent James Rochford in the wake of public exposure of massive failures by the OPS’ bureaucratic predecessor (the Internal Affairs Division) to root out brutal and corrupt officers. Amid growing calls for greater citizen control over police accountability, Rochford’s primary concern (one that reflected the rank-and-file police culture in which he was rooted) was to block any attempt at independent oversight of the police. In a move that satisfied no one other than Chicago police officers and the Fraternal Order of Police, Rochford placed the new OPS under his personal direction.
- (The number of sustained complaints may include cases from previous years and sustained investigations for the year 2004 may have been completed in 2005 and would not show up in these numbers. For year 1999 though some of the 3 sustained investigations may include cases from 1998.) (City of Chicago Annual Reports 1999-2004)
- A second and even more striking way to analyze the numbers in the chart above is by looking at the percentage of sustained investigations to the number of complaints filed.
Year: 2000 Percentage of Cases Sustained: 1.45 %
Year: 2001 Percentage of Cases Sustained: 1.44 %
Year: 2002 Percentage of Cases Sustained: .41 %
Year: 2003 Percentage of Cases Sustained: .48 %
Year: 2004 Percentage of Cases Sustained: .65 %
Most critical observers of OPS have long concluded that it often functions in a manner that helps obscure and downplay police misconduct, instead of investigating and uncovering official wrongdoing. Within a few years of the OPS’ inception, the Chicago Law Enforcement Study Group found that, “The OPS has not achieved the level of objectivity intended by the community’s demands for an independent disciplinary system.” On the rare occasion that the OPS has conducted honest investigations and found overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing (such as under director David Fogel in 1984), the highest officials at the police department take no action.
OPS has had more then enough time to prove it could turn itself into an organization worthy of trust from all the communities that make up Chicago. What it has done instead is to consistently disregard allegations of young black men against officers. Even when OPS conducts an investigation, their investigations and the results are secreted away behind the blue wall of silence. As citizens of this city we are incapable of tracking abusive actions by our police officers because city administrators unnecessarily withhold information regarding complaints and their subsequent investigations out of the reach of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
A cursory review of the history regarding allegations of torture surrounding Jon Burge clearly demonstrates that OPS’ failures have real consequences for minority communities in Chicago. As demonstrated by the recently released Burge torture report, both Mayor Daley and Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine now admit to being notified about torture allegations and doing nothing about them. This is what Cook County Special Prosecutors Edward Egan and Richard Boyle called “a little slippage” in the operations of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office under Daley and Devine.
What they call a “little slippage” we call purposeful negligence. Both Daley and Devine acted recklessly in their blatant disregard for the nearly two-hundred young black men abused and tortured at the hands of Burge and his fellow officers. For the years Burge was with the Chicago Police Department he and many others acted with impunity. Despite what the Special Prosecutor’s Report details, allegations of abuse against Burge go back to the early 1970s when he was promoted to Sergeant. It is clear from the events that followed that officers who systematically abused and tortured suspects for twenty years had no fear of being disciplined either from the OPS or a series of political administrations.
We are calling on Mayor Daley to dissolve the Office of Professional Standards. Following this move the Chicago City Council, Illinois State Legislature and community leaders should create a civilian run agency to oversee citizen complaints against the Chicago Police. This agency should be funded through City, State, and Federal funds by way of statute that would not allow easy political manipulation of their budgets.
A panel of national and local specialists should be created to assist in designing this new civilian run agency. The new agency could include former judges and prosecutors, both police officials and rank-and-file officers, relevant community leaders, and representatives of the tortured and falsely incarcerated. It should be created with the power to compel cooperation from authorities involved in civilian complaints as well as cooperation from citizens. The current nine-member Police Board should be merged with this new agency and its members should no longer be mayoral appointments. This agency should make full use of the professionally developed technological systems and managerial methods that track abusive and corrupt actions by officers. All the proceedings and documents created by this new agency during the course of their work must be open to inspection by the citizens of Chicago and researchers seeking to validate their procedures.
We are at a moment in Chicago’s history when we have a real opportunity to demonstrate to affected communities in Chicago that we will no longer tolerate abusive and corrupt officers on our streets. History is replete with examples of the inability of the Office of Professional Standards to rein in abusive and corrupt officers. Neither the Chicago Police Department’s hierarchy nor the city’s political leadership has any interest in putting a halt to the actions of these officers. It is time that the citizens of Chicago be empowered to confront the abuses of police officers and their superiors. Only through the creation of a civilian run agency independent of political manipulation will the city of Chicago be able to come to terms with its startling history of police malfeasance and lay a foundation for a more just and equitable system of policing.
Tracy Siska, Executive Director Chicago Justice Project
Joseph Lipari, Research Director Chicago Justice Project