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The Most Interesting Recommendations from Chicago’s Police Accountability Task Force

The mayor’s commission spared no words in criticizing the CPD and IPRA. But is change possible?

The scene where 16-year-old Pierre Loury was shot and killed by a police officer on Monday.   Photo: Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune

Two days after another police shooting, and the same day Chicago got a new police chief, the final report from the mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force came out. It’s getting a lot of headlines, mostly for its language on race—“the community’s lack of trust in CPD is justified”; “CPD’s own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color”; “CPD’s long history and current practices are at the root of the deep distrust of the police and remain a significant impediment to improved community-police relations.”

The initial reaction has been not one of surprise, perhaps because the task force came to these conclusions not just from the data, but in working groups and public forums: “the consistent theme of these deeply-held beliefs came from a significant cross-section of people: men and women, young, middle-aged and older, doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals, students, and everyday workers. Regardless of the demographic, people of color loudly expressed their outrage about how they are treated by the police.”

And much of the basis for their conclusions has already been widely reported, from the low number of complaints sustained by the Independent Police Review Authority, to the role collective-bargaining agreements play in how police are held accountable, to racial disparities in how often police misconduct complaints are sustained.

There will probably be some surprises in there for anyone, though, like this one:

In the summer of 2014, CPD stopped more than 250,000 people—93.6 for every 10,000 City residents—in encounters not leading to arrests. (This figure dwarfs the number of stops by New York City police, which from 2011-2014, stopped anywhere between 1.6 and 22.9 people per 10,000.)

But if you follow the news, many of the report’s findings will sound familiar. How about what they think we should do about it?

Constitutional rights training for CPS students

To begin with, here’s one of the more interesting stats in the report:

Based on our interviews, CPD generally provides phone access only at the end of processing, after interrogation and charging, while arrestees wait in lockup to be released or transferred to county custody. Remarkably, in 2014, only 3 out of 1,000 arrestees had an attorney at any point while in police custody. In 2015, the City reports that out of a total of 113,018 arrests, only 702 Attorney Visitor Request Forms were filled out by counsel—about 6 out of every 1,000 arrestees.

Many of the task force’s recommendations amount to more listening and more training. But this factoid results in some of the most concrete suggestions in the report, such as “creating a CPS policy and a City Ordinance requiring that students receive instructions on how to exercise 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendment rights.”

Access to lawyers

And it recommends CPD strengthen its response to those rights—a mandate that arrestees get a phone call within an hour after arrest, and that legal aid gets a call within a half-hour when a juvenile is arrested, who furthermore can’t be questioned without legal representation. It’s not explicitly stated, but it addresses the basis of The Guardian’s ongoing investigations into Homan Square:

According to an analysis of data disclosed to the Guardian in late September, police allowed lawyers access to Homan Square for only 0.94% of the 7,185 arrests logged over nearly 11 years. That percentage aligns with Chicago police’s broader practice of providing minimal access to attorneys during the crucial early interrogation stage, when an arrestee’s constitutional rights against self-incrimination are most vulnerable.

Ditching IPRA

They didn’t mince words: “[The Independent Police Review Authority] is badly broken…. Cases go uninvestigated, the agency lacks resources and IPRA’s findings raise troubling concerns about whether it is biased in favor of police officers. Up until recently, the agency had been run by former law enforcement, who allowed leadership to reverse findings without creating any record of the changes. IPRA has lost the trust of the community, which it cannot function without.”

This could be one of the first recommendations to be implemented. Yesterday WBBM reported that the mayor “hints he might consider replacing” IPRA, and while that might be a mild exaggeration of what he said, a measure has already been introduced to City Council to replace it.

Change the collective bargaining agreements with the Fraternal Order of Police

The report goes into considerable detail about how conflicts between the union and the department, hashed out in labor agreements, have undermined prior attempts to do what the task force is currently recommending.

Take identifying problem officers, for instance. This year, Angela Caputo and Jeremy Gorner of the Trib found that 124 officers, out of 12,000 on the force, were identified in a third of misconduct lawsuits, which cost the city $34 million over the course of six years. Late last year, Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight looked at data acquired via FOIA by the Invisible Institute, and found that complaints against officers over one two-year period were quite predictive of complaints being filed in a later two-year period, even when controlling for neighborhood. More than 10 complaints in the former, for example, meant a 96 percent chance of receiving a complaint in the latter. “A data-driven mechanism to reduce police misconduct would be extremely valuable to the Chicago Police Department and the city of Chicago,” Arthur wrote.

One thing I learned from the report is that the CPD already had this. And the tech wasn’t the problem.

In the mid-1990s, CPD was on the cutting edge of using technology to identify police officers who were engaging in blatant misconduct or whose behavior was otherwise out of step with department policies. CPD acquired a computer software program called BrainMaker Professional to sift through internal data on all officers and, based on computer code that identified behavioral patterns, picked out the officers who showed potential for problem behavior. The idea was to divert the identified officers toward counseling before they committed any crimes. According to reports, initial runs of the system showed that it was fairly adept at picking out problem officers, based on the fact that many of the officers identified by the system had already been singled out by supervisors for participation in CPD’s formal intervention programs. But it also picked out others who, based on patterns of behavior hidden in the troves of data kept on them in CPD, were potentially at risk for problems; even though their disciplinary and intervention histories were clean.

So what happened?

Eventually, CPD scrapped the BrainMaker system. According to some, the program was discontinued in response to opposition from FOP; others suggest the program was never fully embraced by CPD leadership.

Maybe calling it “BrainMaker” was a bit too ominous. Anyway, CPD does have two programs that have been in place for over three decades, Behavioral Intervention System and Personnel Concerns, which are diversionary and not disciplinary. As recently as 2007, there were 276 cops in the BIS and PC programs. Now it’s 13. Why? “Participation quickly dropped off after the FOP filed a grievance against CPD for certain officers’ inclusion. CPD and the FOP settled the grievance by agreeing to remove officers from the programs.” The basis of the grievance was the collective bargaining agreement.

The CBA intersects with disciplinary actions in other ways, such as in the wake of an officer-involved shooting, as Yana Kunichoff and Sam Stecklow reported in the Reader in February:

In these instances, a strong union contract comes up against IPRA’s weak and slow-moving accountability system, in which investigations take an average of 328 days to resolve.

The current agreement between Lodge 7 and the city runs through June 30, 2017, and lays out a wide range of contractual protections, from when and how an officer can be interviewed (during daylight hours, while on duty) to a provision making the results of a polygraph inadmissible in cases brought before the police board.

Changes could be a long time in coming. The previous contract expired in 2012, and a new one wasn’t approved until 2014. As Adeshina Emmanuel reported last year, a lot of desired changes have been on the table for years. And unless the city’s perilous fiscal state dramatically improves, salary and pension negotiations will consume a lot of the energy and leverage.

The task force’s framing of the issue has received most of the attention so far. But absent a voluntary cultural change in the police department—and the web of bureaucracies it operates within, including IPRA and FOP—it’s going to be the fine strokes of policy that determine where it goes from here.

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