A secretive appeals system has been reducing the punishments of Chicago police officers no matter how serious their misconduct, the Chicago Tribune report and ProPublica Illinois report. The practice undercuts the results of lengthy investigations and layers of review long after the public believes the cases were concluded. The news outlets found that 85 percent of disciplinary cases handled through the Chicago Police Department’s grievance process since 2010 led to officers receiving shorter suspensions or, in many cases, having their punishments overturned entirely. A suspension for punching a handcuffed arrestee, all caught on camera? Negotiable. Discipline for making racially insensitive comments during a traffic stop? Tossed out and expunged from the record. Punishments for making false statements, an offense for which the department says it has zero tolerance? Those, too, were wiped away as if they never happened.
The result has been the weakening of a police accountability system that rarely finds fault with officers’ actions in the first place. The department’s labor office operates behind closed doors according to requirements in the police union contract. Victims and complainants are not told when an officer filed a grievance nor are they notified of its outcome. The decisions that overturn discipline can have little to do with the facts behind the misconduct. The police department has no system to track cases, so reporters used data and records from the department and its oversight agency to follow more than 300 disciplinary cases, analyzing changes between the original discipline orders and the outcomes. Of 314 appeals the police union pursued on behalf of officers between February 2010 and February 2017, 266 led to favorable outcomes for officers. Police had their punishments reduced or — in 58 of those cases — had them overturned entirely.