Only police reform will save the city from paying millions more for misconduct

In recent years, the city has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements and judgments to plaintiffs alleging police abuse.

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Anjanette Young discusses her civil case against the city of Chicago during a news conference outside the James R. Thompson Center in the Loop on June 16.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

On Monday, the City Council added millions more to the enormous tab it keeps paying out for police misconduct. We can almost hear Chicago taxpayers’ wallets groaning under the strain.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Police Department have got to rein in cop misconduct before its cost becomes an overwhelming burden, along the lines of our city’s underfunded pensions. It’s been said before but bears repeating every time another costly settlement adds to the tab.

Misconduct also causes irreparable personal harm to victims of bad police work.

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In recent years, the city has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements and judgments to plaintiffs alleging police abuse. On Monday, the Chicago City Council Finance Committee approved a $2.9 million settlement for social worker Anjanette Young for a botched police raid, in which police broke into the wrong apartment and Young was forced to remain naked in front of officers as they milled around. The Finance Committee also approved settlements for more than $2 million in three other cases. The committee’s recommendations will go to the full Council for a vote on Wednesday.

It also bears repeating that the city’s habit of financing police settlements by selling bonds drives up costs even more, because bond sales include fees and interest charges. And all those settlement and bond costs don’t even include the millions of dollars the city shells out to private attorneys to handle some of these cases.

All of this comes out of taxpayers’ pockets because the city is self-insured.

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Getting these costs under control can’t be done quickly. Some of the costs that are coming up now are for cases that are decades old. In October, for example, a federal jury awarded $25 million to a man, Eddie Bolden, who sued the city and two police detectives after being wrongfully convicted of murder. Bolden spent nearly 23 years in jail.

After the raid on Young’s home, the police department instituted some reforms, including requiring bureau chiefs to sign off on any no-knock warrants. But that’s not enough. The only way out of signing huge checks for misconduct, like clockwork, is to invest in police reform, which means more supervision and oversight.

The financial savings from reforming police practices won’t show up immediately. City officials can’t implement reforms now and hold a victory press conference in a couple of months. The benefits will be reaped further in the future.

The more the city invests in reform now, the less it — meaning taxpayers — will have to pay later.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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