July 19, 2020

Police Settlements Accountability Ordinance

Settlement

This innovative legislation lifts the veil of secrecy on police misconduct litigation settlements and judgments while creating an entirely new regiment of responsibility for the City Council and the police accountability system in Chicago. Upon passing this legislation will be the best practice cities around the country emulate. Chicago’s communities deserve nothing less.

As City of Chicago seeks to identify funds that can be redirected away from the criminal justice system to instead be invested in communities in Chicago this specific area is ripe with possibilities. The potential to reap millions of dollars in savings each year that can invested in real economic development across Chicago’s south and west sides is very real. This ordinance will empower Chicago’s communities to hold the Chicago Police Department, the City of Chicago, and the police accountability community responsible for civil settlements and judgments involving policing in Chicago.

Massive Public Coasts to Settlements & Judgments

The massive amounts of money spent each year by the City of Chicago related to civil settlement and judgments around the Chicago Police Department are staggering. While historical numbers are hard to access we have managed to track the amount of money the City of Chicago has spent on payouts since 2004.

The City has worked very hard to hide the amount of money they spend every year both internally and externally to represent the Department and their officers in these civil suits. This figure is in addition to what the City pays out in settlements and judgments. We managed to collect data on how much the City has spent on just the cases involving police misconduct for the years 2011-2018.

Notes on Data
This data includes settlements and judgments from all types of litigation involving the CPD, court costs, and fees. For select years the attorneys’ fees associated with defending these cases in court is included when available. Data Sources: 1) For years 2004-2007 the data comes from media reports., 2) for years 2008-2020 the data comes from the Chicago Department of Law’s Judgment & Settlement Payment Requests. The figures are the authors summation of the data.

Re-imagining $49 Million

Take 1 – School Lunches

In total from January 1, 2004 through May 31, 2020 the city of Chicago has spent $974 million (nominal dollars). Using consumer price index figures provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and adjusting this figure for inflation the city has spent a total of $747 million in 2020 dollars. Removing 2020 figures, as they only include 5 months of data, the city of Chicago spends on average $44 million a year (inflation adjusted 2020 dollars) or the equivalent of $16.33 for every resident of Chicago. If this money instead had been redirected to communities in need, on average 11,000,000 free school lunches could have been provided a year.

Take 2 – Social Workers for CPS

In this take we look at one of the important issues that drove the Chicago Public School’s (CPS) teacher strike in 2019 which was the lack of each individual school having a full-time social worker. It seems that a full-time social worker could cost CPS $100,000 a year including benefits.

So if we do some simple math we see that the City of Chicago payouts the equivalent of the salaries for 490 social workers each year! That means that we could staff over 80% of CPS’ 600 schools with a full-time social worker annually.

No longer will …..

  • settlements be approved by the City Council without every alderman being fully informed of the alleged misconduct, what evidence exists to support the allegations, and the reason why the case needs to be settled. 
  • the Chicago Police Department leaders be able to shield themselves from answering questions publicly about what they are doing in response to the misconduct in each case.
  • the police accountability agencies fail to answer questions from the City Council about any investigations stemming from the misconduct and the results of those investigations.
  • the Law Department hide the internal costs associated with police misconduct civil litigation, what outside law firms & lawyers were retained in each case, and how much they were paid for their work.
  • the Chicago Police Department and the police accountability community fail to provide remedies for eliminating systemic misconduct within the Department. 
  • there be secret off the record briefings inside city hall where aldermen get briefed on the facts of these cases and the public is left in the dark. 

Innovative Reforms

  • Alderman will no longer be allowed to approve a settlement with less than all the information necessary to make an informed vote. The ordinance mandates that every alderman must be provided with the facts of the case before ANY vote in the city council can be taken.
  • EVERY month that includes a civil settlement or a court ordered judgment the Public Safety Committee must hold a public hearing where the only agenda items can be the settlements and judgments. Leaders of the Chicago Police Department, City’s Law Department, and the police accountability organizations must answer questions from the alderman about their response to the alleged misconduct.
  • Mandates that the Public Safety Community hold REMEDY meetings twice a year that are focused entirely on ensuring the Chicago Police Department and police accountability system are doing everything possible to eliminate the behavior that is the basis for the litigation and thus, reducing these burdensome expenditures and freeing money up to be reinvested in under-served communities throughout Chicago. 
  • It LIFTS the veil of secrecy on all of the money spent by the city to not only pay the settlements and judgments but to defend the cases in court. It also forces the city to provide detailed information about what firms and lawyers are being retained in every case and how much they are being paid for their services.
  • This ordinance mandates massive new levels of TRANSPARENCY from the City’s Law Department, Chicago City Council, Chicago Police Department, and all the police accountability agencies. 

The items detailed above are just the highlights. The ordinance Is packed with plenty of additional powerful transparency requirements. You can read the ordinance for yourself here: Police Settlement Transparency and Accountability Ordinance

This ordinance is aimed at making sure that the City Council never repeats the shameful approval of a Laquan McDonald type payout without having the information they need to do their job.

Settlement & Judgment Transparency is Non-partisan

The transparency requirements mandated by our ordinance should provide those that think the City fails to vigorously fight lawsuits with all the information needed to expose the problems they have been talking about.

Transparency provides information for all sides to use to support their efforts to engage in the democratic process. We hope this ordinance is seen as the non-partisan legislation that it is.

Who is responsible for drafting this ordinance?

This ordinance was drafted by the Chicago Justice Project with significant input by police accountability scholar and Emeritus Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, Samuel Walker. There was also significant input from three national level police accountability experts in addition to input from members of the civil rights bar in Chicago.

Sign on as a supporter!

Want to add your yourself or your organization as a supporter of this ordinance? Fill out the form below and we will add you to the growing list of organizations that are behind this ground breaking transparency effort.

  • Neil Rest
  • Deborah Nall
  • Dave McGovern
  • Barbara Iverson
  • Tegan Hullinger
  • Elce Redmond
  • Donna Makowski
  • Sandra Gutierrez
  • Courtney Casey
  • Prof. Samuel Walker
  • Derek Eder
  • Shreya Chimpiri
  • Sohni Mallhi
  • John Arena
  • Margaret Soffin
  • Alley Paral
  • Christopher McMillion
  • Karl Fogel
  • Lauren Robinson
  • Jane Heron
  • Greg Allen
  • Veronica Presley
  • Larnell Farmer
  • Sean Bond
  • LaRie Suttle
  • Diana Schwartz
  • South Austin Coalition
  • Open Tech Strategies, LLC