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Police misconduct exacts a heavy toll on Chicago

Cops' bad behavior corrodes trust in law enforcement and costs taxpayers millions in legal settlements.

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JAMIE RAMSAY
  • Jamie Ramsay

Police misconduct has cost Chicago taxpayers more than half a billion dollars since 2004—and that's just for legal settlements and fees. The toll that cops' bad behavior exacts on our city isn't measured only in dollars, although the city has paid out $100 million for misconduct cases in the last two months alone. It's also a moral drag, a broad, ugly banner communicating to the country and the world that in Chicago, black lives don't matter. Or perhaps, since the victims of CPD misconduct aren't always black, the message is instead that in Chicago cops' lives matter more than anyone else's. Just last month, 15 people serving lengthy prison sentences stemming from cases built by corrupt sergeant Ronald Watts were exonerated. (Hours later, CPD announced that seven officers from Watts's crew who are still on the force had been placed on desk duty.) Watts is just one of many bad cops department bosses have covered for over the years.

Many beat cops would argue, of course, that it's their lives that don't matter, that the city only serves and protects the police department's top brass. Indeed, officers regularly make that argument on the anonymously written blog Second City Cop. It's a forum wherein CPD's hive mind can churn unhindered by political correctness. News of the reassignments related to the Watts fallout, for instance, was met with the observation that "You are literally taking your career into your own hands in the current political climate attempting to enforce the law. And even if you stopped being proactive a decade ago, nothing is ever closed. Ever." Posters on the blog frequently decry being blamed for wrongful conviction cases when it's the state's attorney's office that decides what to prosecute; they lament that their union cares more about politics than the membership's welfare. And yet these aggrieved officers (or whoever they are) evince little solidarity with the people they purport to serve and protect. They frequently rant about "gangbanging pieces of shit" winning the day in "Shitcago." When they deem someone undeserving of life—such as 24-year-old Aquoness Cathery, who was fatally shot by a cop in November—they celebrate his death and commend police involved. On December 1, SCC posted social media photos of Cathery apparently flashing gang signs and noted: "Someday society will find a cure, although this one—clocking in around 1,200 feet per second—seemed to work just fine."

The Department of Justice report released last January enumerated the various ways in which a kind of cowboy culture and deep division between top brass and rank-and-file officers contribute to patterns of civil rights violations. On its way out the door, President Obama's DOJ left the city with a laundry list of suggested reforms but no means of forcing implementation or compliance. According to a tracker established by the Chicago Reporter, the city had fully implemented just 15 of the DOJ's 99 reform recommendations as of the middle of November.

Many in black, Latino, immigrant, Muslim, and LGBTQ communities have long lost faith in the possibility of finding justice with the help of the police—or the possibility of reform driven by local, state, or even federal government. But for those still willing to dial 911 for help, the misconduct and the failure to address its cultural causes sap whatever trust might remain in local law enforcement. And the erosion of that trust contributes to a problem that's even more pervasive than police brutality—CPD's abysmal record on solving crimes, particularly murder.   v

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