This blog was authored by Policy Intern Jane Manwarring.
Laquan McDonald was tragically shot and killed by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. The tragedy continued long after his death as the officers involved falsified their reports and covered up for each other, stating that Laquan was threatening and his death was a necessity for their safety. When the video of the shooting was finally released in 2015, the officers’ lies were uncovered and the corruption and misconduct within the Chicago Police Department were exposed. The most disturbing part of this case is the ease with which the officers were able to lie about the shooting to protect Van Dyke. There are systems in place that support and promote a code of silence among CPD officers: Chicago’s police union contracts are a critical part of this system. The current police union contracts allow a 24-hour delay on officer statements in shooting cases, creating an opportunity for officers to collude and line up their statements so they match. This is what happened in the Laquan McDonald shooting and it’s one of many egregious ways Chicago’s police contracts support and promote a code of silence.
The City of Chicago’s contracts with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and the Illinois Policemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (PBPA) are currently under negotiation. The current contracts codify policies that enhance the code of silence in the police department. The contracts do not effectively hold police accountable, they make it hard to identify and investigate police misconduct, and they create loopholes for police to lie about misconduct.
When citizens make the brave decision to file a complaint against an officer, they are often not properly investigated due to various barriers. One of these blockades is the requirement for a civilian to sign a sworn affidavit in order to file a complaint. This requirement is written into Chicago’s police union contracts. For many potential complainants, the threat of being charged with perjury if the complaint is deemed false creates a chilling effect. According to the Police Accountability Task Force (PATF) report, 40 percent of complaints filed from 2011-2015 were not investigated by the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) or Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA) because there was no signed affidavit.
Even beyond the disturbing and obvious human rights issues that arise with police misconduct, these cases have cost Chicago $280 million from 2011-2016 (Settling for Misconduct database). These contracts have enforced a system at the cost of human lives and hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.
With the expiration of the current contracts comes an opportunity to create change for the better. The Coalition for Police Contract Accountability (CPCA) is a group made of community, policy and civil rights groups aiming to create positive changes to Chicago’s police union contracts. CPCA has come up with 14 recommendations to improve the CPD contracts. They are as follows:
- Eliminate the requirement of a sworn affidavit for investigating civilian complaints of misconduct.
- Allow for the filing and investigation of anonymous complaints.
- Prevent disclosure of a complainant’s name prior to the interrogation of an accused officer.
- Remove the ban on offering rewards to officers that cooperate or provide information on ongoing investigations.
- Eliminate the 24-hour delay on officer statements in shooting cases and create a clearly outlined process to receive statements from all officers involved in a timely manner.
- Eliminate officer’s right to review and amend statements previously made to investigators.
- Allow past disciplinary records to be used in investigating and resolving present complaints.
- Eliminate the provision requiring the destruction of police misconduct records.
- Eliminate the need for the Superintendent’s authorization to investigate complaints that are five years old or older.
- Remove constraints on how interrogators can ask questions.
- Specify that information provided to officers prior to interrogations should be a general recitation of allegations.
- Allow for the disclosure of the identities of officers who are the subject of civilian complaints.
- Require officers to disclose secondary employment and any other pertinent information that may cause a conflict of interest in performing their duties as a sworn officer.
- Reduce years of seniority for officers who have been repeatedly recommended for suspension because of findings of complaints filed against them.
Chicago has a great opportunity to respond to the community’s demand for greater police accountability by prioritizing these necessary reforms in current negotiations with Chicago’s police unions.