The Chicago Police Board: “Suffering from a Crisis in Credibility”

On Oct. 27th the Chicago Justice Project released a report titled “Chicago Police Board: A Ten-Year Analysis”.  Our report was an analysis of ten years of cases and their resulting decisions from 1999-2008.

In response to ourDemetrius Carney report the Chicago Police Board President Demetrius  Carney (pictured here) has stated that the Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department needs to “prove his case.”   This is in direct response to our finding that 37% of the time the board has followed the recommendation for discipline from the Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department.  We wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment.  We also believe that it is vitally important when the Superintendent fails to prove his case that the board members provide written explanations of this failure so that community members, rank and file officers, policy makers, and the other institutions within the accountability system in Chicago can be notified of this failure and adjust their practices where appropriate.  Creating a system that learns from its own weaknesses is a ‘best practice’ policy that both the citizens of Chicago and the rank and file officers of the Chicago Police Department deserve.

For citizen oversight agencies to have credibility among citizens, policy makers, and the city’s police officers, meaningful transparency is a basic requirement.  This transparency must go beyond the listing of very limited amounts of information on the agency’s website.  Meaningful transparency requires that, wherever possible, explanations of important decisions are made public for all to review.

The Chicago Police Board has been suffering for many years from a lack of credibility.  Many officers feel that terminations are all too often the result of “politics” and are not based on factual information provided to the board.  On the other hand, when the board takes minimal disciplinary action against officers such as William Cozzi (who only received a suspension from the board for brutal actions caught on video), Chicago citizens feel that the board cares little about the abuse that occurs in their communities.  As a starting point to reclaiming public confidence, board members must be legally required to clearly explain their disciplinary judgments.

Citizen oversight in the criminal justice system plays a vital role in validating the practices of the police accountability system.  This role can only be fulfilled with engaged board members who the public can be assured will fulfill the responsibilities of their office.  Our study revealed that four members missed over twenty percent of the votes, one missing over thirty-three percent of the votes, for the ten years covered in our study.  Moreover, the nine members of the board have been paid for their service on the board starting in 1999, despite the fact that the ordinance governing the Chicago Police Board says board members shall serve without compensation.  After a raise in 2008, the board president receives $25,000 per year and the eight other board members each receive $15,000.

The Chicago Police Board should open up their decision making processes to greater public inspection so that all stakeholders can have confidence in the board’s practices and decisions.  The mission of the board is very important and CJP looks forward to a more transparent organization that has earned the respect of both community members and the many men and women of the Chicago Police Department who serve Chicago with professionalization and dedication.

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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