How Two Chicago News Organizations Brought New Scrutiny To Police

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A pair of investigations that arrived just days apart last week—one from a small nonprofit news organization, the other by a leading daily newspaper—brought new scrutiny to the way the city of Chicago handles allegations of police misconduct. The reports, each based on an analysis of hundreds of lawsuits, highlight the soaring cost of alleged misconduct to taxpayers, the city’s failure to track patterns of abuse, and the extent to which officials try to keep crucial information under wraps, reports the Columbia Journalism Review. One of the investigations, a remarkable effort by The Chicago Reporter, found that the city spent more than $210 million for settlements or judgments stemming from police misconduct lawsuits between 2012 and 2015, borrowing money to pay the tab at a time when the city already is struggling with crippling debt.

The nonprofit newsroom’s report emphasized that the city does not analyze the lawsuits for trends, something other major cities do in order to address police misconduct and curb legal costs. A few days later, the Chicago Tribune rolled out its own significant investigation into the city’s handling of police lawsuits. Reporters reviewed 445 federal civil rights suits filed since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in 2011. In nearly one in five of the cases, they found, a federal judge ordered the city to turn over information or records that it had tried to keep from plaintiffs. In five cases, a judge took the unusual step of sanctioning the city for withholding evidence. “The Tribune and other news organizations have had a lot of problems getting the city to give us information that we feel we are owed under the Freedom of Information Act,” said Mark Jacob, an editor. “We are really only seeking to get the city to follow the law.”

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