CPD should halt controversial push for more ‘positive’ interactions, monitor says in echoing AG

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown set a goal of 1.5 million such interactions this year. The Illinois attorney general’s office already likened the initiative to a “quota system” that’s “rife with significant downsides.”

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CPD Supt. David Brown has instituted a system for tracking officers’ “positive community interactions” and has a goal of 1.5 million such “PCIs” this year — but critics call it a quota system with “significant downsides.”

Sun-Times file

The team overseeing the Chicago Police Department’s court-ordered reform efforts slammed Supt. David Brown’s goal of conducting 1.5 million “positive community interactions” and urged the department to halt the initiative. 

A report released late Monday by the independent monitor tracking the CPD’s compliance with a federal consent decree marks the latest rebuke of an initiative Brown announced in early January and touted as instrumental for “engaging the community [and] building trust.” 

Defined as a “brief, spontaneous, high visibility interaction that is positive, informative, helpful, or constructive in nature,” each positive community interaction, or PCI, must be reported to a city dispatcher. Despite Brown’s lofty claims, the progress report warns his goal “seriously risks increasing negative interactions, damaging public trust, and undermining its ability to ensure it is providing constitutional and effective policing.”

The Illinois attorney general’s office, which along with the monitoring team oversees City Hall’s compliance with the consent decree, penned a letter to city lawyers in February urging the police department to “suspend or at least pause” the effort to tally 1.5 million PCIs this year, calling it a “quota system” that’s “rife with significant downsides.” 

In echoing some of the attorney general’s concerns, the monitoring team warns the initiative “risks negatively impacting existing supervision, accountability, and transparency mechanisms and undermining efforts to maintain and build public trust.” What’s more, the monitoring team’s report also says the initiative should be halted until the department addresses problems with the PCI program.

Maggie Hickey, a former federal prosecutor and the court-appointed monitor, even singles out the PCI initiative in an unusual letter included in the report, warning that “superficial attempts to cut corners are likely to cause further delay” to the CPD’s reform push.

A Chicago Sun-Times analysis of PCI data last month found multiple accuracy issues and revealed the department was on pace to hit Brown’s goal, which would mark a threefold increase over last year. A new analysis of data through March 3 shows that while PCIs dipped slightly after the letter from the attorney general’s office, the department remained on track.

In a March 28 briefing with reporters, Brown said PCIs are part of a larger community engagement plan, one he said bolsters community relations. Still, he appeared to acknowledge the record-keeping issues.

“How do you measure it, and then how do you audit it to prove that it’s working? So all of that will be built into a single document,” he said, pointing to a more robust tracking system. “But we can’t wait to do it. This is so critical to our success.”

As noted by the monitoring team, the general order that includes that definition doesn’t specify “any data or variables” officers are required to provide, meaning the data only shows that a PCI was reported.

None of the PCI data analyzed by the Sun-Times contains the race, gender or age of the people involved in each interaction, nor does it explain why an interaction is considered positive. The report acknowledges that, noting that the PCI system currently doesn’t include any feedback from community members on their interpretation of the encounters. 

The vagueness of the definition and the lack of specific data effectively “incentivizes officers to self-servingly interpret and report all interactions as PCIs,” according to the report.

Perhaps most alarming, the report notes the directive doesn’t specify whether a PCI can be related to other law enforcement actions, like a stop, search, citation or an arrest.

Given that PCIs have “increased dramatically” in police districts that have “historically included the most police contacts,” the report raises concerns that the jump “could reflect increased law enforcement actions under a new, misleading name.”

The three police districts in which the most PCIs were recorded last year are all on the West Side. Two of the districts have majority-Black populations; one is majority-Hispanic. All have high levels of violent crime and drug activity, according to the Sun-Times analysis.

Through March 3, the latest analysis shows the top spot belongs to the Near North Side, an area with relatively low violent crime. The Ogden District has the second-most PCI calls this year and earned the top spot in 2021, when it had had a little less than double the citywide average for per capita shooting and homicide victims.

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois, said the city’s overarching approach to reform ignores “evidence and experience” as he bemoaned the lack of oversight in the PCI program.

“We’re supposed to just accept that these aren’t just … stops of some sort,” Yohnka said. “This all feels very precarious, given the history of these kinds of stops in the city of Chicago.”

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