Chicago Police officers faced nearly 135,000 complaints over a 34-year period but less than 1 percent of those cases resulted in a firing, according to a trove of records Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration released Wednesday under a court order.
But despite the Emanuel administration’s pledge of transparent government, the information was released to the Chicago Sun-Times and other news organizations late in the day in a format that prevented a complete analysis of recent complaints.
Those disciplinary cases are a focus of a wide-ranging U.S. Justice Department investigation of the police department in the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting.
The information was distributed in two parts: a searchable, sortable spreadsheet and a 7,000-page PDF file.
The Chicago Sun-Times was able to analyze only the spreadsheet, which covered a period from 1967 to 2001. The PDF file contained more recent complaints, between 2001 and 2014, that appeared to be lodged against more than 15,000 cops.
The analysis of the spreadsheet covering the complaints filed between 1967 and 2001 showed:
• There were 134,683 records of complaints against 18,907 officers. It appears some complaints might have been listed twice.
• In 87 percent of the complaints, 116,901 of them, no action was taken.
• Action was taken in 17,783 other complaints — about 13 percent of the total — ranging from reprimands and suspensions to firings.
• Two officers accumulated more than 100 complaints each.
• Just 553 complaints ended in a firing, or “separation.” That’s 0.4 percent of the total complaints filed.
Former Supt. LeRoy Martin, who led the department from 1987 to 1992, had nine complaints — the most of any top cop. Current Supt. Eddie Johnson had eight; Phil Cline and Matt Rodriguez had four each; Richard Brzeczek had two, and Terry Hillard had one. None of the complaints led to any action. Garry McCarthy and Jody Weis weren’t affiliated with the department during this period.
The most frequent form of discipline was a reprimand. That happened with about 4,169 complaints, or 3 percent of the total.
The most common reason for being fired was testing positive for drugs, which happened in 49 instances. Other leading reasons for being separated: domestic altercations, possession or sale of drugs, and use of weapon against department policies.
The vast majority of the complaints from 1967 through 2001 were filed in the 1990s. There were just seven complaints in the late 1960s; 88 in the ’70s; 9,945 in the ’80s; 112,839 in the ’90s; and 1,184 in the early 2000s.
Although the PDF file that shows individual complaint histories between 2001 and 2014 couldn’t be sorted, a spot check shows three of the police department’s most notorious cops — Jerome Finnigan, Broderick Jones and Corey Flagg — all had more than 65 complaints against them.
During their time on the force, Jones was suspended a total of four times and reprimanded once. Flagg was suspended once and reprimanded twice. And Finnigan was never disciplined. They all have been convicted of corruption and sent to prison.
Complaint registers — called “CRs” in department lingo — are the formal name for complaints against cops. In 2006, the department began sending commanders lists of officers who had 10 or more complaints filed against them within a five-year period. The lists were meant to highlight cops who were engaging in patterns of unacceptable behavior and needed counseling and additional training, officials said.
The city had fought to keep complaint registers secret. But in March 2014, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that the state’s Freedom of Information Act doesn’t exempt CR files from being made public.
In August 2014, the Sun-Times filed a request seeking all complaint registers filed against Chicago officers since 1967. The Chicago Tribune also filed a request seeking logs summarizing all police misconduct cases since 1967.
The police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 7, filed a lawsuit to block the city from releasing the records, arguing that the union contract barred the city from maintaining CRs for more than four years. Emanuel’s law department wound up fighting the police union — seeking to release the police complaint data.
The case ended up in the state appeals court, which ruled on July 8 that the Emanuel’s administration had to release the data, which includes the names of the officers, the date they joined the police department, the complaint lodged against them and the outcome of the cases.
Contributing: Dan Mihalopoulos