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Study: Civilian complaints ‘a valid predictor’ of police misconduct

Chicago Police

Two legal scholars — one from Northwestern University and the other from the University of Chicago — found that “for the worst 5 percent [of officers], there was a clear relationship between allegations and litigation.” | Sun-Times file photo

Two local legal scholars who examined thousands of police misconduct allegations have determined that taking those complaints more seriously “could substantially reduce the most serious incidents of police misconduct.”

Northwestern University law professor Max Schanzenbach and Kyle Rozema of the University of Chicago examined 50,000 misconduct complaints lodged against members of the CPD between 2002 and 2014.

They found that “citizen allegations are a valid predictor of serious misconduct” by police officers.

In a soon-to-be-published paper, the two write that, when it comes to racking up misconduct complaints, an officer’s assigned district does not matter.

Schanzenbach and Rozema found that officers who were the subject of misconduct complaints in more violent areas of Chicago were just as likely to be the subject of complaints in safer parts of the city.

The two also conclude that, for the majority of Chicago Police officers, civilian complaints do not result in litigation. However, “for the worst 5 percent [of officers], there was a clear relationship between allegations and litigation.”

“The worst 1 percent of officers generate almost five times the number of payouts and four times the total damage payouts in civil rights litigation than the average officer,” they found.

Between 2002 and 2014, more than half of all police misconduct complaints were dismissed because the complaining party did not give a sworn affidavit, Schanzenbach and Rozema concluded. They argue, though, that those complaints without affidavits “had the same predictive power” as those allegations that were accompanied by a sworn statement.

The two concluded that “removing the worst 1 percent” of Chicago Police officers — about 120 people — and replacing them with “an average officer” would have saved Chicago taxpayers more than $6 million in payouts between 2009 and 2014.

Chicago taxpayers have been on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements reached in police misconduct lawsuits in recent years.

The two scholars argue that 90 percent of Chicago police officers who are subject to no complaints “or just a few allegations” don’t need “a targeted intervention.”

“Only those officers in the worst 10 percent — and especially those in the worst 1 percent — merit special attention,” they found.