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Police Board Drops the Ball on Citizens’ Complaints

When filing a complaint against a Chicago police officer, be prepared to wait, sometimes years, for a decision.

The Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) investigates complaints filed against officers. Based on the IPRA’s findings, the department may call for disciplinary action against an officer. But calls to fire or suspend an officer are reviewed by the Chicago Police Board, which often reduces or overturns the punishment. Many citizens and advocates say the process is both discriminatory and slow-moving as it channels citizens’ complaints through a time-consuming and often confusing bureaucracy.

The police board is made up of civilians appointed by Mayor Richard Daley, with the City Council’s consent. The mayor also appointed the IPRA’s chief administrator.

According to a report by the Chicago Justice Project, a local nonprofit that aims to increase transparency in the criminal justice system, complaints filed against Chicago police officers between January 1999 and December 2008 took an average of 358 days to complete.

The report, released in 2009 and entitled “Chicago Police Board: A Ten-Year Analysis,” stated that while the minimum time for a decision regarding an officer’s alleged misconduct was 99 days, other cases have taken more than five years to complete.

Pamela Hunt, a Chicago resident, filed an assault complaint against a Chicago police officer in 2007. At a Chicago police board meeting held Feb. 18, Hunt was still looking for answers to her unresolved complaint.

She told police board members she was assaulted outside a Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) organizational meeting, an initiative started in 1992 by the Chicago Police Department to involve community members in fighting crime.

Hunt said she is generally very supportive of police and involved in community policing efforts. But the assault “changed my life forever,” she said.

Hunt told the board she got a letter in 2009 saying her complaint was not sustained due to lack of evidence. She asked why it took a full two years to process her complaint.

“That was unsatisfactory to me,” she said. She was particularly shocked at the finding because she said witnesses, including a police officer, were present during the alleged assault.

Hunt filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the IPRA report on her complaint, but was told she would be charged a $40 fee for a copy.

“It seems to me that is almost extortion,” Hunt said. “I initiated the complaint, now I have to pay to get a report. My concern is a lot of police brutality occurs in working class and moderate income areas, and what if you cannot afford to pay for that report?”

“Do you see that could be discriminatory?” she asked the board.

Other citizens at the meeting also charged both the Chicago Police Department and the Chicago Police Board with racism.

Robert Moore said he attended the meeting to push for tougher punishment of police officers who assaulted a friend’s 11-year-old granddaughter in 2001. Moore said the child, who is black, was attacked by three white police officers in her neighborhood. He accused the board of racism.

“If it was a white girl and black officers, they would have gotten fired,” Moore said. Moore said the officers received a 15-day suspension after the incident, but were later reimbursed for their time off. He said he wants to see the officers fired.

Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project, said lack of accountability has long characterized the Chicago Police Board. The center’s 2009 study found that nearly two-thirds of the time, the Chicago Police Board did not follow the police superintendent’s recommendations to fire police officers, but instead allowed them to keep their jobs.

According to the Chicago Justice Center, police board members were paid between $15,00 and $25,000 in 2008 to administer the monthly meetings, and between 1999 and 2009 several board members did not show up to vote on nearly 30 percent of the board’s decisions.

Siska said that even though the police board is racially diverse, it isn’t economically diverse. “They’re all rich,” he said.

He also said the board members are not impartial, and pointed out that board member Patricia Bobb is a lawyer who defends Chicago police officers.

This perceived lack of accountability often equates to a lack of confidence in the system for citizens like Hunt.

“I’m concerned that I have no other recourse but to accept not sustained,” Hunt said of the ruling on her complaint. “[I’m] always looking over my shoulder… always having to trust that this officer won’t do it again.”

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