“Familiar Playbook” In Chicago Cop Scandals: Payouts, Little Discipline


The Chicago Police Department's record of brutality began long before the widely publicized case of Laquan McDonald, the New York Times reports. For decades, back to violent clashes at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and confessions coerced by a “midnight crew” of detectives accused of using suffocation, electric shock and Russian roulette on black men in the 1970s and 1980s, Chicago police have tried to deal with allegations of torture, racism, weak oversight and a code of silence. In the nation's third-largest city, officers shot and killed 70 people, most of them black, over five years ending in 2014. That was the most among the nation's 10 largest cities during the same period, says the Better Government Association, a watchdog organization. The Chicago Police Department has also been known for issuing little or no punishment to its own, even after a 2007 overhaul of its discipline system that was portrayed as creating a tough, autonomous authority.

Under that system, the vast majority of complaints against the police still do not result in discipline. Of more than 400 police shootings since the Independent Police Review Authority was created in 2007, the agency has found claims of wrongdoing against officers valid in only two cases. The authority issues only recommendations for discipline. The police superintendent and the Police Board have the last word. The city, in the middle of a fiscal crisis, has spent more than $500 million settling police cases since 2004. Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor, cites a “familiar playbook”: “Heads will roll and we'll form a blue-ribbon commission to study the problem But after each and every one of these scandals, we've never had the political courage to address the underlying issues, the very causes of distrust between the black community and the Chicago police. Police officers here have been allowed to abuse the most vulnerable Chicago residents with near impunity.”

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