Andy Shaw: Police misconduct not just Chicago’s problem

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The intense focus on police misconduct in Chicago — especially the way it’s been mishandled and covered up by top cops and City Hall — is costing Mayor Rahm Emanuel the trust and support of his city.

He’s admitted, contritely, that he owns it, many wonder if he can survive it, and the figures that underscore it are staggering:

As the Better Government Association reported in the Sun-Times last week, Chicago taxpayers shelled out nearly $650 million in the past 12 years to litigate and settle excessive force cases, and Chicago police fatally shot 70 civilians over a recent five year period, most of any big city.


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Statistics also indicate fewer Chicago cops are held accountable for shootings and other alleged misconduct than their urban counterparts.

But it’s not just a Chicago problem, as we’ve seen in Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, Milwaukee, San Francisco and other cities where police have mistreated, disrespected and occasionally killed citizens during high-profile confrontations.

And it’s not just an inner-city problem, as the Better Government Association revealed in multiple investigations of excessive force and misconduct in the Chicago suburbs.

The BGA found that suburban police departments were sued 629 times between 2008 and 2013, costing their taxpayers nearly $42 million in settlements and legal fees.

Some examples:

+ West suburban Cicero paid $11.6 million to settle a lawsuit against cops who allegedly searched a home without a warrant, beat the family members inside, and had them wrongly arrested and prosecuted. A town spokesman says despite the settlement, the charges were unsubstantiated so the officers weren’t disciplined and several remain on the force.

+ Neighboring Forest Park spent $650,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a 19-year-old police department intern who accused an officer of raping her. The cop wasn’t charged with a crime and is still on the job.

+ South Suburban Harvey paid $1.4 million to settle a suit alleging Mayor Eric Kellogg and a former police detective framed a man for allegedly stealing their cocaine. Kellogg is still the mayor.

+ Nearby Lynwood settled an abuse case against an officer who slugged and injured a handcuffed prisoner for $500,000, but it took county prosecutors two years, and numerous inquiries by the BGA and CBS 2, to eventually charge the officer with aggravated battery and official misconduct.

Clearly, this a national problem in cities, suburbs, towns and villages where police departments fail to hold their officers accountable by imposing swift and appropriate discipline, and good cops ignore the bad behavior of their partners and colleagues.

That’s an invitation to tragedy, as we’ve seen in Chicago with the release of several horrific and explosive dash-cam videos, and multi-million-dollar lawsuits that punish taxpayers while the rogue cops frequently escape punishment.

Many of the social ills that spark violence — guns, gangs, drugs, poor schools, a lack of jobs and dysfunctional families — are beyond the scope of beat officers and watchdogs.

But we’re supporting reforms every police department can and should embrace to improve law enforcement: Better training and supervision, clearer rules and tools for constraining and apprehending suspects, consistent imposition of consequences for engaging in or ignoring misconduct, and an early warning system for identifying bad officers.

Those are keys to the accountability and transparency that has to replace the code of silence.

Those are reforms we have to demand.

Policing has to change, and committed business, civic and government leaders — Rahm’s at the top of that list — have to help them do it.

Andy Shaw is president and CEO of the Better Government Association.


Follow Andy Shaw on Twitter: @andyshawbga

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