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How to Fix the Chicago Police Department

It’s going to take a lot more than a task force on police accountability.

Photograph: Joshua Lott/Getty Images

On December 1, the same day Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy got canned (er, asked to resign), Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his new task force on police accountability. It’s what Chicagoans have been asking for, right? An independent group looking over CPD’s shoulder?

Not quite. Initially, at least, the group of six (which includes the city’s inspector general, Joseph Ferguson, and is led by former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick) was charged with three duties: looking at how the city’s existing Independent Police Review Authority handles police-involved shootings (such as the mishandling of the killing of Laquan McDonald, which led to McCarthy’s downfall), assessing how the CPD deals with cops who have repeated complaints against them, and offering up “best practices” for releasing videos of alleged police misconduct. 

Problem is, a task force is basically just a band of consultants—think Bain or McKinsey—engaged for a limited time to make recommendations. The task force can suggest all sorts of reform, but ultimately the mayor can do whatever he wants. 

Which brings us back to the Review Authority. IPRA’s staff—some of whom are retired Chicago Police Department officers—are employed full-time by the city for the purpose of investigating every police-involved shooting and complaint of police misconduct. (See “What is IPRA?” below.)

But despite its name, the Independent Police Review Authority is not truly independent: The mayor hires and fires the chief.  Nor does IPRA, like the new task force, have any real authority. It can make recommendations, but the CPD doesn’t have to follow them. 

Last summer, two former IPRA investigators claimed that the chief administrator, Scott Ando, pressured them to skew findings in favor of officers. (IPRA, since 2007, has concluded that only one of 400 police shootings failed to follow CPD guidelines.) One of those investigators, Lorenzo Davis, spoke out after he was fired in July for antipolice bias. Out of 348 cases that were completed from July through September in 2015, IPRA recommended disciplinary action in 24 of them. IPRA also referred 1,052 cases to CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs, which the superintendent’s office oversees. What gets investigated from there is at the discretion of the superintendent. See where this is going?

“According to the data, there are far more terrible incidents that occur in Chicago than many other jurisdictions,” says Craig Futterman, the University of Chicago law professor who pushed for the release of the McDonald video. “What separates Chicago even more is the failure to have credible machinery to address police misconduct, to investigate it, to root it out. And to be honest about it.”

Other cities have figured out a better way. Take Cincinnati, which is considered by many criminal justice experts, including Futterman, to be the best model for police reform (for more on Cincinnati, read this). After riots spurred by a police shooting racked that city in 2001, its mayor called in the U.S. Department of Justice for advice—and to act as an independent monitor. Cincinnati also established a collaboration among the city, police department, and community groups, which laid out a rubric for holding police accountable. Among the new policies: Shortly after a police shooting, the department must hold a press conference and present dashcam video and audio recorded by the officer’s mike. Results have been concrete and substantial: Use-of-force incidents declined from 145 in 2002 to 22 in 2013. Does that make the police less effective? Not necessarily: The number of violent crimes also fell by almost half.

“In a world in which all you’re ever worried about is protection from litigation, you would never do that,” says Tracey Meares, a Yale law professor and member of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, commenting on the Cincinnati model. “But if you’re thinking about transparency and trust in your decisions, you might take a different approach.”

 

What is IPRA?

Mayor Richard M. Daley formed the Independent Police Review Authority in 2007 in response to the Jon Burge torture scandal. (Burge is an ex-cop convicted of abusing roughly 120 men to coerce confessions.) IPRA is composed of more than 80 (!) full-time city employees and is tasked with reviewing complaints of police misconduct.

Chief administrator Scott Ando, whom Mayor Emanuel promoted into the role after Ando spent three years as IPRA’s deputy chief, has led the group since 2014. Lorenzo Davis, the investigator fired last summer, claims that Ando and other IPRA leaders insisted he change his conclusions in six police shootings—cases in which Davis said officers were unjustified. Ando denied the accusations and said in a statement, “No one at IPRA has ever been asked to change their findings.”

 

Update Two days after this story was published online, Ando stepped down from the IPRA.

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