Police Union Contract Must End "Code of Silence"

Since 2004, the City of Chicago has paid out a staggering sum of $625 million to victims of real and alleged police misconduct.  Think about that for a moment.  Remember the outrage over the $540 million property tax increase that I voted against? Well, these settlements are $85 million more than that coming out of the pockets of renters and owners alike.

If we had common sense reforms in place twenty years ago, much of that $625 million in lawsuits and settlements could have been averted.  Simply put, Chicago taxpayers cannot afford to ignore the way we police our citizenry.

Therefore, I have proposed three common sense reforms to restore citizens’ trust in our police.  

These reforms--in addition to being the right thing to do--have the extra benefit of saving the City’s taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in the future. It will also make the job of the police officer on the street easier to do.

  1. I sponsored an ordinance to create an elected board to oversee police accountability. A board that is chosen by the citizens and not the Mayor will be answerable to the citizens and not to the Mayor.
  2. The new Police Union contract should protect police whistle-blowers, allow anonymous complaints to be investigated and--in a police shooting--get a statement immediately from officers instead of waiting up to 24 hours. There are a total of fourteen substantive changes that I will insist on being addressed before I vote on the next contract.  Here are the three most important:
    • Currently, anonymous complaints against a police officer cannot be investigated. In order to get a complaint of harassment or misconduct seriously looked at, a citizen must file a sworn affidavit, including their address, to the police. No other city worker has those protections.
    • Currently a police officer can wait as long as 24 hours before giving a statement after they are involved in a police shooting. They are also allowed to change their statement after watching a video of the incident, if one exists.
    • Any finding of misconduct by a Chicago police officer disappears from their personnel file after five years.  Again, that is a luxury afforded no other city employee.  This means that not only can an investigation not be re-opened if new information comes to light, but also previous misconduct cannot be taken into account in a new investigation if the misconduct happened five or more years in the past.
  3. Expansion of the programs currently in place to encourage law enforcement officers to live in the working class communities they represent. Perhaps long gone are the days when it was a common that a police officer who walked the beat also lived in the neighborhood.  But it seems obvious that more police living in more of our neighborhoods will build public trust.

Some who are resistant to change will say that any reforms to the police department are “anti-police.” Nothing could be further from the truth.  I know, as we all do, that the vast majority of our Chicago police officers do a terrific job under very difficult circumstances. The fact that these brave officers put their lives on the line every day to protect us speaks for itself and deserves our praise.

The system, however, as we all know, is not perfect. Police officers, being human, are not perfect. When the Police Department or individual police officers make mistakes, they are well-publicized, expensive, and too often the result of a broken system.  Neither the Chicago Police Department nor the community benefits when the occasional misconduct or systemic shortcomings are swept under the rug. As with any institution we cherish, sometimes “tough love” is the only answer. In this case, our much needed reforms are the “tough love” that the times call for.

An important part of reforming the criminal justice system is re-establishing a solid bond of trust between the police department and the community they serve.  It works both ways. Anything less results in a lack of cooperation from witnesses and victims of crimes, a greater likelihood of suspects committing violence against a police officer and more frequent instances of allegations of police misconduct.  Even more, our failure to reform the way police serve and interact with our community will simply continue to cost our beloved city more in bloodshed, tax money, and reputation.