Under fire for its slow compliance with a federal consent decree, the Chicago Police Department on Tuesday launched two long-awaited programs aimed at pinpointing problem police officers — and getting them the help they need — before behavioral issues trigger suicides or incidents of excessive force.
The cornerstone is a data-driven early intervention system more than four years in the making by the University of Chicago Crime and Education Lab.
Executive Director Roseanna Ander noted most early intervention systems in other big-city police departments have not worked as intended, primarily because they were “off the shelf.”
Chicago’s multi-million-dollar “Officer Support System” will be different, she said. It was “built from the ground up,” specifically for Chicago’s unique needs, with input from focus groups of police officers and supervisors and experts in police accountability, mental health and wellness.
The program started Tuesday in the 5th District. It will be rolled out across the city during the course of next year. It was bankrolled by private funding, including contributions from billionaire Ken Griffin and local philanthropies.
“We’re trying to do something that is incredibly ground-breaking and actually works and is not a box-checking exercise,” Ander said.
Too often after an incident of police abuse, supervisors say “we knew something was going on with that officer,” but a “blind eye” was turned, Ander said.
“A system like this is really, in some sense, trying to make sure that supervisors are taking the time to talk to officers who might be struggling. Who might need a little extra training. Who might need some mental health services or other things before it escalates,” she said.
“We’ve seen the high number of suicides in this department. By then, it’s too late. After a Laquan McDonald or after an officer commits suicide, it’s too little, too late. This in some ways is sort of a forcing mechanism to ensure that supervisors really can’t simply turn a blind eye. There’s an infrastructure in place.”
Greg Stoddard, senior research director for the U of C Crime Lab, said “three types of data points” will trigger intervention: complaints generated internally or filed by private citizens; use-of-force reports generated when officers use physical force to compel compliance; and low-level misconduct that does not require investigation, such as showing up at roll call either late, or with an appearance that is not up to snuff.
Based on those criteria over the last five years, Stoddard estimated 3% to 5% of officers would be flagged for early intervention.
It would begin with a talk with their immediate supervisor. The “documented strategy” would be “kicked up the chain of command” and could escalate to a conversation with the CPD chaplain or renewed training in the use of force.
The “first conversations” between officers and supervisors in the 5th District likely will occur “in the next week or two,” Stoddard said.
“It’s not evidence that 3%-to-5% of the department are bad people or anything that major. It’s simply saying that three-to-five percent of the department have some things in their administrative behavior that suggest that they might be going down the wrong path, but not necessarily that they are,” Stoddard said.
“It warrants a conversation trying to figure out whether they would need services and help.”
The second pilot program that delivers on the police reforms Mayor Lori Lightfoot promised to deliver within 90 days would use a telehealth app to deliver mental health treatment to Chicago police officers around the clock.
That program, still being developed, will offer both group- and one-on-one therapy to provide the assistance needed to reduce a wave of officer suicides.