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Editorial: Rid cop contracts of loopholes that protect misdeeds

Police investigate the scene of a double homicide after two people were discovered shot inside an apartment on the morning of February 6 in Chicago. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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It is no secret that a series of indefensible provisions in Chicago’s contracts with police unions make it hard to weed out cops who engage in misconduct.

As the city negotiates new police contracts, it is imperative that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council insist on a thorough rewriting. Unnecessary rules that protect bad cops finally must go.

On Wednesday, the City Council Black Caucus called for such fundamental changes, echoing recommendations made by the Coalition for Accountability in Police Contracts, which includes the ACLU and other groups. Some of the proposed contract revisions also are called for by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Police Accountability Task Force and in a subsequent U.S. Justice Department report.

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Union representatives will, of course, work to get the best deal for their members as they and the city negotiate new collective bargaining agreements for police sergeants, captains and lieutenants. Later this year, talks will start with the Fraternal Order of Police on a contract for patrol officers.

But provisions that essentially codify the reviled code of silence must go. And there is no shortage of ways to do that.

Investigators, for example, should be permitted to follow up on anonymous complaints against police, something that is not currently allowed. People who have had a bad encounter with police are wary of signing an affidavit that might boomerang into a perjury charge against them. Once this provision is out of the contract, the Legislature should remove it from state law, where it also resides.

Here’s another contract provision that should go. Now, a police officer can wait 24 hours before providing a statement after a police-involved shooting. On top of that, the officer may amend that statement after reviewing video or audio evidence.

The Coalition for Accountability in Police Contracts also wants to get rid of a requirement that the name and address of someone who makes a complaint be given to the officer who is the subject of the complaint.

Transparent contract negotiations are essential to strengthening the public’s trust in the police.

On that score, it is unfortunate that Police Supt. Eddie Johnson has quietly changed the rules on merit promotions, as Frank Main and Fran Spielman reported in Friday’s Sun-Times. Johnson did so with a “verbal order” instead of an official, public policy. In its report on the Police Department, the U.S. Justice Department criticized the “lack of transparency” around merit promotions, a process that Johnson apparently decided should be even more opaque.

Chicago must nurture a stronger bond between the police and all Chicagoans if our city is to end the wave of violence that led to the loss of more than 760 lives in shootings last year. There has been no discernible let-up this year. Just on Wednesday, seven people were killed and six were wounded in shootings.

There can be no tolerance for cops who cross the line. They tarnish the reputation of all officers. And the best officers must be promoted, openly and honestly.

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