Public Bodies as Learning Institutions can Reduce Litigation Costs

 In my testimony to the Chicago City Council Committee on Police and Fire back in December, Alderman James Balcer spoke about the need for tort reform to reduce litigation costs associated with civil suits against the Chicago Police Department.  I tried to respond but was told promptly “that was not a question and that I was not to respond.”  Denying the witness testifying the ability to respond to statements offered by legislators while the witness is still testifying is not exactly a good faith gesture.  I figured I would respond here.  Why the delay, well let’s just say that the recent filing of a federal lawsuit by Mark Geinosky reminded me of the experience of testifying.  (See below for a copy of Geinosky’s Federal Complai

City of Chicago SealMy answer to Alderman Balcer’s tort reform statement is that the criminal justice system needs to create learning institutions that seek to prevent abuse before we even entertain the idea of talking about tort reform.   Learning institutions in the criminal justice context would be institutions that are routinely learning from how their actions proceed through the remainder of the system.  It is inconceivable to think that the Chicago Police Department can possibly know all there is to know about the actions of their officers from looking only at data their agency creates.  Performance metrics must include an examination of the entire life course of an arrest or ticket created by an individual officer.

Generally speaking, the stopping point for any interest by the CPD to analyze an officer’s actions is when an arrest is approved within the CPD.  They do not look at the results of the arrest (or ticket) as it moves through the system.  The basic line of thought is that once the arrest is approved any failure of that arrest to result in a conviction is the prosecutors faulty, in this case the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO).  In many cases it might very well be the actions of the SAO that caused the case to fail; however, in many cases it might be that the arrest was bad or some other bad actions from the CPD caused the case to fail.  Regardless of the reason it certainly seems like the CPD is not the least bit interested in learning from the result.

Chicago Tribune Stories on Geinosky’s Story:

If the CPD would have a practice of learning about how these cases move through the system and why they fail it might very well prevent future litigation costs associated with poor procedures that result in bad arrests that result in litigation.  This is certainly true in the Burge scandal that continues to cost our criminal justice agencies money in civil settlements, litigation costs, and ongoing defense of convictions very possibly made as a result of tortured confessions.  If you look at the Geinosky case the same is true here.  It is alleged that this officer wrote 24 tickets to the same guy in different parts of the city for a variety of parking illegalities.  To date all have been dismissed and the rest are anticipated to fall to the same fate.  Now the really interesting part is that all 24 are in numerical order!  That’s right folks over the course of 14 months the officer never wrote another ticket, to anyone!  Hmm…this is Chicago so you can be sure there is something going on here, but instead I would like to focus on the ability to prevent this lawsuit.

I wonder how many tickets an officer can write that are thrown out of court before someone looks at something and says something like, “hey, maybe he is not doing something right here.”  Now take this a step further and look at the fact that all 24 were to the same guy.  Then look at the fact that all 24 were in numerical order, meaning the tickets were one after another in the officer’s ticket book.  What are the odds that an officer in a roving unit, Targeted Response Unit (TRU), that is assigned in various communities throughout the city, could possibly come across the same vehicle parking illegally so consistently?  Low right?

Geinosky did complain to the Internal Affairs Division of the CPD and to the Independent Police Review Authority but the investigation was a non starter because they don’t investigation parking tickets.  Well, what was the result of a dumb system not learning from the repeated actions of an officer who is obviously up to something bad:  a nice big federal lawsuit.  Tort reform?  Hell, we need a whole lot of reform before we get to the torts!   This lawsuit was entirely preventable but the CPD looked the other way and the accountability mechanisms dismissed it as sour grapes.  Oops, now the city is going to spend tens of thousands of dollars defending the lawsuit and probably tens of thousands paying out the settlement.  Remember, tort reform is the path to ending abuse!

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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