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Officials question process that suspended Chicago cop who strip-searched youth

One Chicago Police officer admitted he fractured his girlfriend’s nose during a domestic fight. His punishment: a five-day suspension.

One officer received a 150-day suspension for conducting a strip search of a juvenile in a store and failing to file a police report.

And two other Chicago cops acknowledged they falsified arrests. One got a 60-day suspension and the other got a 120-day suspension.

All of those officers took advantage of a mediation process that allows them to receive a lesser punishment than being fired in exchange for confessing to wrongdoing.

They agreed to those suspensions last year in mediations with the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates allegations of police misconduct.

Now officials are re-examining that mediation process and whether cops accused of certain serious offenses should be ineligible for it.

“I am definitely looking at the mediation process and the criteria we use to see if it’s appropriate,” said Sharon Fairley, the new administrator of the Independent Police Review Authority.

The agency has used mediation as a tool to speed up the resolution of cases, which otherwise could drag on for years.

When a case doesn’t go to mediation, IPRA conducts an investigation to decide whether allegations should be sustained. If so, the agency recommends a punishment to the police superintendent.

When the superintendent thinks an officer should be fired, he presents administrative charges to the Chicago Police Board, which conducts a hearing to decide whether to terminate the cop. That process can also be lengthy.

Mediation has helped boost the number of complaints the Independent Police Review Authority has sustained against officers, according to the agency’s reports. Forty-two cases were sustained in 2009; 44 in 2010; 70 in 2011; 111 in 2012; 113 in 2013; 126 in 2014; and 115 through the first nine months of last year.

In addition to fast-tracking misconduct cases, IPRA says mediation is beneficial because “acknowledgement of wrongdoing is a strong indicator that behavior will change,” one report said.

Another reason for mediation is that evidence isn’t always available to sustain allegations against an officer. For example, a victim of domestic abuse might decide not to testify against an accused officer.

But Lori Lightfoot, president of the Chicago Police Board, said, “Mediation was never meant to be a means by which we keep officers on the job who should never be on the job.”

“I think there needs to be a serious evaluation of what has happened before, what kinds of cases have been taken to mediation, the criteria for how those cases go to mediation, and when an officer exhibits the kind of conduct that should be brought before the police board as a termination case, those are not cases that should be mediated,” Lightfoot said.