Police accountability: How does Chicago compare?

While most of the recent furor about the Chicago Police Department (CPD) has focused on allegations of excessive force, there have also been concerns about the accountability of officers who engaged in potentially unjustified uses of force. The accountability issue is front and center today after the announcement by Attorney General Loretta Lynch that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is launching an investigation of the CPD, including looking at accountability, and the news last night that the head of the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), Scott Ando, had abruptly resigned. The IPRA is responsible for reviewing all allegations of misconduct by Chicago police officers.

The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that of the 409 cases of officer-involved shootings reviewed in its nine year history, IPRA found 407 to be justified, and cleared the officer of wrongdoing. That works out to a clearance rate of 99.5 percent.

Such a high rate would seem to be statistically improbable. So how does Chicago’s experience stack up against other police departments?

Las Vegas stands as a positive example of how a troubled police department can turn itself around, reduce the number of police shootings, and create a culture of accountability. That story is told in an excellent article “How one of the deadliest police forces in America stopped shooting people.”

The DOJ also investigated the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, and the Department there subsequently implemented many of the recommendation that stemmed from the investigation.

The investigation was initiated in large part as a response to a series of investigative articles by the Las Vegas Review-Journal that documented the problems there, much as we are seeing new information come to light in Chicago from a variety of media investigations.

One of the findings by the Review-Journal was that the Use of Force Review Board cleared officers of wrongdoing in “a staggering” 97 percent of  the use of force cases it reviewed. In its petition to the DOJ calling for an investigation, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) cited the 97 percent figure, noting that “Meaningful review of these events simply does not take place.”

Clearance rates in other places, while still high, were much lower than in Chicago. The Miami Police Department was also subjected to a DOJ investigation, which found that 87 percent of police shootings were cleared. In Palm Beach County, Florida, 90 percent of officer-involved shootings were cleared over a 15 year period.

A DOJ report examining the Philadelphia Police Department was released earlier this year, which found that 77 percent of the officers involved in a shooting did not violate departmental policies. Even with a clearance rate lower than some other departments, “Some interviewees told the Justice Department they believed that the department’s board of inquiry undermined findings from internal reviews of officer shootings, resulting in “too little discipline.””

Only one other police department had numbers similar to Chicago. The Newark, New Jersey police department was investigated by the DOJ beginning in 2011, after a request was made by the ACLU. In its petition calling for the investigation, the ACLU notes that in 2008 and 2009 there were 128 excessive force complaints made against Newark police officers. Not a single complaint was sustained – 100 percent were cleared, even better than Chicago’s 99.5 percent. An interesting trivia fact: the police chief in Newark at the time was Garry McCarthy, who was just fired by Mayor Emanuel from his Superintendent position here in Chicago because of similar problems.


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