Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=6125
Story Retrieval Date: 10/22/2014 1:25:59 AM CST

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Study: Police abuse goes unpunished

by Ryan Gallagher
April 04, 2007


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Off-duty police officer, Anthony Abbate, attacks a female bartender. This incident and others has drawn attention to police brutality rates.

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Ryan Gallagher

A relatively small percentage of Chicago officers make up the majority of police abuse complaints filed by citizens from May 2001 to May 2006, according to the study.

More than 10,000 complaints of police abuse were filed with Chicago police between 2002 and 2004, but only 19 resulted in meaningful disciplinary action, a new study asserts.

The study argues the Chicago Police Department should not be allowed to police itself.  Instead, an independent civilian oversight board should monitor and investigate police abuse reports to ensure accountability for every officer’s conduct. The study was conducted by University of Chicago law professor Craig B. Futterman and the Invisible Institute, a Chicago-based company that works on social justice projects.

“The way in which CPD investigates police abuse is a joke,” Futterman said Wednesday.  “If the CPD investigated civilian crime in the same way it investigates police abuse, they’d never solve a case.”

Though the study is not yet formally released, its results come as the department faces unprecedented scrutiny over incidents of off-duty police being caught on camera physically abusing citizens. Police Superintendent Philip Cline resigned on Monday, and seven officers have been stripped of their police powers while investigations continue.  

Figures for his study, Futterman said, were provided by the police department in response to a federal civil rights suit alleging police abuse.

Futterman said 85 percent of officers accused of police abuse are not interviewed in person about the incident and are allowed time to corroborate their story with involved parties.  He charged the department withholds information from the public.

Gerald Frazier, president of Citizens Alert, a community activist group not involved in the study, said, “[The department’s oversight] problem is not only the appearance of influence and cover-up. Their problem is simply they are not getting the job done in terms of protecting the residents of Chicago from police officers who are obviously out of control.”

The police department’s oversight body allows officers with “criminal tendencies to operate with impunity,” the study charges, because it does not adequately monitor or discipline police behavior. The study, expected to be released this summer, says that body, the Office of Professional Standards, operates at the department’s discretion rather than serving the public’s interest. 

Patrick Camden, the department's deputy director of news affairs, declined to comment on the concept of an independent civilian review board or the study’s findings.

“We don't respond to studies,” Camden said.

Between May 2001 and May 2006, 662 officers each racked up more than 10 complaints of police abuse, according to the study.  Another 2,451 officers received four to 10 complaints, while other officers compiled more than 50 complaints.  Of the “repeaters,” 75 percent have never been disciplined, the study says.

Citizens Alert, which works with victims of police brutality, has advocated for a civilian oversight office for three decades, claiming such a board would hold police officers accountable.  Frazier said that board would provide neutrality and restore the public’s trust and confidence in a “broken” system.

According to the study, citizens filed 10,149 complaints of alleged police abuse from 2002 to 2004 for actions including excessive force, illegal search and arrests, racial abuse and sexual abuse.  The study says only 19 of those complaints, or less than two for every 1,000 complaints, resulted in meaningful discipline, which is defined as a suspension of at least seven days.

“The problem is so bad in Chicago that people will call us instead of [the police]because of fear of retaliation and that nothing will happen,” Frazier said.

A 2006 study by the U.S. Department of Justice supports Frazier’s claim, reporting that only 10 percent of people who believed they were victims of excessive force filed a complaint with that police department.

Futterman's study found that in 2004, about .5 percent of excessive force complaints filed were sustained by the department, compared to the 2002 national average of 8 percent. That means CPD complaints are 94 percent less likely to be followed through than those against other police departments.