Editorial: Another step back for Chicago Police reform

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Cops should be suspended. Cops should fired.

So we wrote back in September, our concern being that police officers who botched or deliberately subverted the homicide investigation of David Koschman might never pay a price, slipping off into retirement before City Hall wags a finger. What, we asked — even before the Laquan McDonald scandal exploded — would this say about the integrity of the Chicago Police Department?


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Now, sure enough, it is happening. Two cops implicated in the corrupt Koschman investigation have retired, riding into the sunset with pensions that top $100,000 a year. A third officer says on his Facebook page that Sunday was his last day on the job. Three other officers still could avoid punishment by retiring.

And we know exactly what this says about the integrity of the Chicago Police Department: It is lousy.

As the Sun-Times reported Sunday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel for nearly two months has been sitting on a report from the city’s inspector general urging punishment — including firing — of officers who failed to charge a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley with killing 21-year-old Koschman. The report’s conclusions supposedly were kept under wraps, but that’s hard to square with the fact that three of the six officers recommended for punishment almost immediately retired.

We suspect word got around: Get out while you can.

The way we see it, the mayor and the Police Department have blown another opportunity to show they are serious about police reform and government transparency. They have blown another chance to send a message that the old ways of doing things — pulling punches for the politically connected and covering up for others — are over.

Apparently, the old ways are not over. That’s the only honest conclusion we can reach.

Since Sept. 18, 2013, the day a special prosecutor completed an investigation into the police department’s mishandling of the Koschman case, we believe the police superintendent has had sufficient legal grounds to suspend or fire the officers responsible. But the mayor’s office chose to wait for a full report and recommendations from Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

When Ferguson handed over his report in December, we again believed the police department should jump on this case. Every day the department did not hold the culpable officers accountable was another tear in its already tattered credibility. But instead City Hall has hired a lawyer to review Ferguson’s findings, and Police Supt. John Escalante has yet to file formal disciplinary charges with the Chicago Police Board.

Here’s the thing: There are no mysteries left, and there are no reasonable excuses for further delays in taking disciplinary action. The actions of the six officers accused of unprofessionalism have been fully examined. More than two years ago, Special Prosecutor Dan K. Webb presented strong evidence of serious wrongdoing by the officers, and Ferguson in December apparently spelled out why punishment was warranted.

Yet City Hall drags this out — while the officers in question slip away into retirement.

This is bad stuff for any police department in any city at any time. A community’s faith in the integrity of its police force is a street cop’s most powerful crime-fighting tool. But it is especially bad stuff for Chicago at this time.

Our city is still reeling from the release of a video late last year showing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by a cop — a cop who remained on the force, at full pay, more than a year later. Our city is still reeling from the questionable fatal shooting of 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier and his neighbor, 55-year-old Bettie Jones, on the day after Christmas.

The U.S. Justice Department is now conducting a top-to-bottom civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department, which was long overdue. But real change comes from within.

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