Criminal Justice System is Failing Us

The opaque manner in which our criminal justice agencies operate in Chicago and Cook County is failing community members.  It’s imperative that our criminal justice agencies operate in the best interests of public safety above all else, yet both the Koschman case and the case involving the two officers from the 23rd district who sexually assaulted a woman on duty clearly display that our criminal justice agencies have been operating in a manner contrary to those interests.

This is an expanded version of an opinion editorial that the Sun Times decided not to run about the recent failings of the Chicagoland criminal justice system.

Koschman Case

In the first example, investigators failed to immediately investigate the aggravated battery of David Koschman until he passed away twelve days later.  The first lineup was conducted 25 days after the original incident.  There is no way this would have occurred had the victim in the case been a relative of our mayor or had the offender been of color.

There is a call for an outside investigation of the police investigation from Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alverez (see below).  The problem with the call for the investigation is that it was limited to only the initial investigation by Chicago Police Department (CPD) and it seemed to be barred from looking at the actions of the State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO).  From the reporting on the case the CPD did indeed seek felony charges against Mayor Daley’s nephew R.J. Vanecko but the SAO declined to press charges.  Attempts by the Sun Times to look into the felony review process with the SAO uncovered that the file with the SAO had been lost.  The public has a right to the access needed to validate the practices of all public agencies included the SAO.  The fact that when the media came poking around the file was lost just increases the suspicion involved in the case and the fact that from the beginning the investigation was predetermined to go nowhere.  Clearly the public needs to know how and why that file disappeared to have any confidence in the SAO’s practices going forward.

Rape on Duty

The Chicago Police Department moved quickly to suspend a third officer involved in a previous incident involving the sexual assault of another woman (which also involved one of the original officers).  It is clear that the two officers involved in the March 30th incident have a history of complaints from other women, yet somehow were allowed back on the street and were able to assault yet another citizen.

Access to information from the system is so restricted that communities are left completely in the dark when it comes to even the most generic information.  It is critical to public safety for community members to know that officers in their district have a history of allegations against them for sexually violent behavior against women.  The Chicago Police Department disagrees with this statement and considers the investigations into those incidents, and the allegations themselves, to be internal personnel matters.  This is not the attitude of an agency that seeks to inform communities of serious public safety issues.

In the Koschman case, despite fantastic reporting by the Sun Times, the public is once again left in the dark about vital public safety information.   The public does not know who made the decision to not investigate the case immediately – and wait 25 days before conducting a line up – and what communities those decision makers are currently working in.

The public is equally uninformed by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, as we have no idea who within the office refused to press felony charges in the case, nor who lost the case file and if that person is still working on cases involving public safety.

The pursuit of public safety is a very serious endeavor that requires empowering communities to be partners in that pursuit.  Communities can only be partners where there is symmetry between agencies and communities when it comes to information access.  This current imbalance leaves the agencies with all the power and community members both distrustful of the agencies and endangered by that very imbalance.

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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