Database of complaints against police made public

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After years of litigation, a Chicago journalism group has unveiled a database of more than 50,000 misconduct cases dating back several years.

This week, the Invisible Institute made public its Citizens Police Data Project, which includes information about 56,361 misconduct cases made public last year by a court decision.

The website features information about cases filed against 8,559 police officers from 2002 to 2008 and from March 2011 through March 2015.

Some of the findings in the data, according to DNAinfo reporter Tanveer Ali, include:

• More than 96 percent of allegations were dismissed and only 3 percent of all cases resulted in discipline. Most of those resulted in less than a week of suspension.

• The most prevalent category of complaints are related to 1st Amendment or illegal arrest violations. More than 36 percent of the nearly 13,000 cases filed in this category were found legitimate.

• Most officers, around 80 percent of the total force, have zero to four complaints, and approximately 90 percent receive zero to 10 complaints. But officers with more than 10 complaints — just 10 percent of all officers — have four times the amount of misconduct complaints per officer as the rest of the force.

•  When it comes to punishment, officers with more than 10 complaints against them are rarely disciplined. Only 0.05 percent (1 in 2,000) of the complaints resulted in punishment.

• Black officers are disproportionately found guilty of offenses and suffer higher punishments. Black officers with sustained findings were punished more than twice as often as white officers.

“To be clear, this information does not tell us whether an officer is abusive or not,” Jamie Kalven, the Invisible Institute’s founder, told DNAinfo. “But what it does tell us is complaints are not being properly addressed, and until now, the public hasn’t been given the department’s own evidence of that.”

WBEZ reporter Rob Wildeboer talked with Kalven, who fought for years to make the misconduct information public.

He teamed up with Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who filed several lawsuits against the Chicago Police Department that eventually paved the way for this week’s release of information.

“We got the information under a court protective order,” Futterman told WBEZ. “We didn’t know what it was going to show until we actually analyzed it and then what we saw — that’s what was incredibly shocking, and then that’s when we had this information and I felt like, oh my gosh, my hands are completely tied behind my back. We knew it. Not allowed to share it.”

One of Futterman’s law students, Wudi Wu, spent months analyzing the records. He discovered that when discipline is handed down, officers who violate internal departmental procedures get heavier punishments than officers who violate the constitutional rights of citizens.

For example, when officers take a second job without notifying the department, they received an average suspension of 16.5 days. And when they illegally arrest someone? 2.3 days.

WBEZ tried repeatedly to get comment from the Chicago Police Department. There was no response except for one chart saying the police received 50 percent fewer complaints in 2015 than in 2011. In court filings and arguments the department has admitted it isn’t using its complaint data to identify potentially problematic cops, WBEZ reports.

Kalven plans to update and publicize police complaint records every six months on his group’s police data website.

Here’s information about how to file a complaint.


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