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The [Wednesday] Papers

In the first of a two-part investigative report called "Shielded From The Truth," the Tribune reports today that the Chicago Police Department's method for investigating police shootings is a sham.

"The inquiry, which reviewed available records for more than 200 police shooting cases over the last decade, found that these cursory police investigations create a separate standard of justice and fuel the fear among some citizens that officers can shoot people with impunity," the paper reports.

"Law enforcement officials at all levels, from the detectives who investigate cases to the superintendent, as well as the state's attorney's office, have failed to properly police the police."

I hope we can all agree on that now. This isn't about bad apples or maligning cops. It's about the failure to properly manage a police department - and about officials, including the mayor, who simply care more about public relations and protecting their own than they do about justice and the public interest. Even if innocent people are killed as a result.

"The combination of this secrecy and the perfunctory investigation of police shootings means that it is virtually impossible to determine how many were in fact legitimate," the Tribune says.

The Daley Administration believes we do not have a right to know.

"The newspaper reviewed thousands of pages of documents from authorities' internal investigative files, Cook County medical examiner autopsies and depositions from lawsuits filed after police shootings," the Tribune noted. "The paper sought complete case files, but the Police Department denied a Freedom of Information Act request for its records on such cases."

Inside Accounts
As long as I've been in Chicago - more than 15 years now - the media has gullibly passed along the police department's conclusion in almost every shooting of a civilian by a police officer as "justified" without asking just how officials reached that determination.

Now we know. They just made it up at a phony process called a roundtable, which gathers enough officials together to create the appearance of deliberative thought.

"To me, the roundtable is just a way to quickly justify cases," Thomas Smith, chief investigator for the Office of Professional Standards from 1998 to 2002, said when he left his job, according to the Tribune. (You can find video of an interview with Smith and others cited in the Trib story in the web version of the story.)

"Michael Oppenheimer, a prosecutor in the state's attorney's office from 1990 to 2003, said he attended numerous roundtables and that he was told by his superiors not to ask questions," the Tribune reports. "He said he and other prosecutors were there as 'window dressing' to lend an air of credibility to the process."

Of course, activists, lawyers and plain ol' citizens whose dealings with cops aren't as warm and fuzzy as those of newspaper editors have been talking about this stuff for years - if not decades.

(Just last September, our friend Tracy Jake Siska, who runs the Chicago Justice Project, posted on his blog an excerpt from documents about roundtables unearthed in the same case the Tribune uses as its lead example today. Jamie Kalven's work also comes to mind.)

The Tribune's project today is inspiring. A truly excellent piece of journalism that takes time, dedication, money and expertise to turn out. But like so many Tribune projects (Burge and the death penalty come to mind), I find myself also asking: What took so long?

Unequal Justice
"The details that cast doubt on an officer's account can be found in police reports, the files of the Office of Professional Standards or in autopsy records," the Tribune reports in a second article today. "They can be unearthed by attorneys during the civil suits they bring against police officers and the city.

"But a Tribune investigation of police shootings in Chicago found that those documents are rarely scrutinized by the Cook County state's attorney's office, which over the last decade has not charged a single on-duty Chicago police officer with shooting a civilian.

"In contrast, if the civilian survives the shooting, police and prosecutors invariably charge them and bring them to trial. Many of those questionable cases, however, unravel in court, with either the charges dismissed or a judge or jury acquitting the defendant, the Tribune found."

It's hard to imagine a more devastating finding.

Campaign Issue
No doubt these findings will be injected into the current campaign to succeed Dick Devine as Cook County state's attorney. It can't be good news for the Devine deputies in the race; so-called change candidates such as Ald. Howard Brookins should get a boost.

What's fascinating is how police issues - including the Jon Burge torture scandals - are playing out in the state's attorney's race in a way that never occurred when Daley ran for re-election.

"Police brutality and prosecutorial misconduct emerged as flash points Tuesday in the Democratic contest for Cook County state's attorney, with outsiders seeking the job criticizing the office for failing to combat the two problems while career prosecutors defended their agency," the Tribune reports.

And former two-term Cook County state's attorney Richard Daley, who then moved into the mayor's chair and has been there for 18 years, skates by again.

Daley Show
Today's Tribune investigation is exactly why Daley is not to be taken seriously when it comes to reforming the police department. He has not only refused to support a civilian review board, but he has placed a reorganized internal affairs office directly under his own control, while then conducting a secret and possibly illegal search for the next police chief that castrated the police board. How can you promise that the new police chief will bring transparency and reform to the department when his hiring was shrouded in mystery, evasion and fiat?

Chief Beef
The Tribune also reports today that Jody Weis was not the mayor's first choice to fill the police chief vacancy. What I wondered as I read this was why the mayor seemed so hellbent on bringing in an FBI agent to run the show.

Meanwhile, the Sun-Times reports today that "A one-page agreement that has not yet been signed will lock Weis into a three-year term unless he leaves on his own or is fired for cause."

So he's "locked in" unless he decides to leave. Or he's fired. That's pretty locked in.

And three years is hardly the "long time" the mayor promised the other day. It's more like the minimum we could expect - if that.

Court Retort
"The Tribune this summer filed a motion in federal court, still pending, that seeks to unseal more than 50 police shooting files turned over in a lawsuit filed by the estate of a man who was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer in 2002."

Why stop there? Let's unseal the entire Daley reign.

The Beachwood Tip Line: It's Daley Time.



Permalink

Posted on December 5, 2007


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