Missed opportunities for true reform

Great opportunities to broaden the discourse around accountability within the criminal justice system in Chicago and Cook County were recently missed. A closer examination of these chances will unveil a more complete picture into how truly dedicated the new version of the Office of Professional Standards (OPS) will be to conducting their business in a new manner. A manner that is more inline with protecting the public from rouge and brutal agents of the criminal justice agencies at work in our communities rather than one dedicated to covering up for these same officers.

Count 1 The removal of the director of OPS and the search for a new director.

When the Mayor removed the director of OPS, he had an historic opportunity to engage communities known to be the victims of police abuse and encourage their participation in the search for a new director. This move would have given at least the appearance that Daley considered what police routinely do in these communities when it comes to abuse inappropriate.

Instead, the Mayor engaged a small group of individuals whose activities and decisions were secretly kept from the public. The committee forwarded three candidates to the Mayor and he picked Ilana Rosenzweig. She might be the right choice, but don’t you think that a Mayor dedicated to openness and transparency would have at least let the public in on the selection process or at the very least let the public know who the other two candidates from Chicago were?

Count 2 The removal of Superintendent Cline and the search for a new Superintendent.

When Phil Cline announced his forced retirement several weeks ago, Daley once again had an opportunity to engage outsiders in the process, but failed to do so. What Daley did was to conduct business as usual and used the bureaucracy that he created to generate the usual suspects on a short list of candidates to replace Cline. The three candidates include one Black – Charles Williams, one Latino – Hiram Grau , and one white – Thomas Belfiore. Both Grau and Williams are longtime members of the Chicago Police Department and Belfiore is currently the head of the Westchester County Department of Public Safety in New York.

The major problem with this process is that the discussion about who is to become the next Superintendent has been framed to only have three choices. Two of which have what I would call unknown pasts with unknown ties to corruption and abuse within the system. During his tenure, Grau was Commander of the 14th district in Chicago known as Shakespeare. This district is known to have a significant level of abuse in its past. I think the public should be informed about Grau’s role in abuse during his tenure as Commander of the district.

“Williams was commander of the public housing unit and spent 13 years in the internal affairs division where he worked on investigations of wrongdoing by officers,” (Chicago Tribune, July 10, 2007). Both of his roles in internal affairs and as Commander of the public housing unit need to be examined. It would be nice to know if during his time in internal affairs Williams was involved in covering up abuse at the hands of officers. Also, the public housing unit in Chicago is marred with allegations of abuse at various levels. Both of Williams’ roles must be determined before the people of Chicago can feel confident of installing him to lead the department.

Out of the need for brevity, I am going to skip addressing Belfiore’s qualifications. He has one major draw back that in Chicago, given the climate, will prohibit him from ever being considered, he is white. There is no way that the Mayor given all the publicity around the department will install a white Superintendent of Police. Much of Chicago politics is about tokenism, and Daley is in need of some nice photo ops with a black or brown Police Superintendent. At least the communities of color in the city will know that when they are being abused, the head of the organization resembles them to some degree.

Count 3 The ordinance to reorganize OPS.

The new ordinance, while moving in the right direction, definitely keeps control of the organization within the confines of the Mayor’s office and does very little to alleviate the problems of the police department. The vast majority of the department’s problems are generated behind closed doors at the time that decisions are made about where to deploy their forces.

The media and policy makers, including our mayor, seem to lack the ability to comprehend that most abuse in our criminal justice system goes unreported. In the last couple of weeks, there has been considerable press coverage about the Mayor’s “complete overhaul” of the Office of Professional Standards. His complete overhaul consists of a single ordinance that alters who OPS reports to, from reporting directly to the Superintendent of Police and instead has OPS reporting directly to the Mayor.

It seems like the Mayor believes that the ineptitude demonstrated by OPS’ work product would be changed if OPS reports directly to him instead of the Chicago Police Department. Community members worried about the independence of OPS while under the CPD are not thrilled with OPS now reporting directly to the Mayor. In fact, some believe that OPS’ work has just been politicized more, not less.

All three of these opportunities have passed by the people of Chicago. In the past similar opportunities were met with the same lip service that has been paid to the current incidents. This lip service guarantees that the same actions are doomed to be repeated because the system has not put into place safeguards to prohibit them. Every special operations unit that the Chicago Police Department has created to “combat” gangs has at sometime been the center of an abuse or corruption scandal. Our public officials took no serious actions to prohibit them in the future and the actions were repeated. Our public officials have taken no serious actions to prohibit them from happening in the future once again, so we will see them repeated in the future.

Tracy has nearly two decades of experience researching and working within criminal justice systems. When Tracy began pursuing a career dedicate to system reform, he found that no single organization existed to promote evidence-based discussions among law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Recognizing that citizens in Chicago deserved the right to demand transparency in their criminal justice system, Siska established the Chicago Justice Project. He received his Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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