Chicago cit­i­zens aim to ID of­fi­cers in mis­con­duct cases

Web­site lets public search po­lice data

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY AN­DREA NOBLE

It’s rare when a mis­con­duct com­plaint filed against a Chicago po­lice of­fi­cer ends in dis­ci­pline: Com­plaints records show of­fi­cers were pun­ished as a re­sult of just 2 per­cent of the more than 28,000 mis­con­duct ac­cu­sa­tions from 2011 to 2015.

One prob­lem blamed for the low dis­ci­pline rate is the im­me­di­ate dis­missal of more than a quar­ter of com­plaints in which an of­fi­cer can’t be iden­ti­fied, says a trans­parency and dig­i­tal rights ad­vo­cacy group that has de­signed an on­line crowd­sourc­ing tool to help de­ter­mine the iden­ti­ties of in­volved of­fi­cers.

Lucy Par­sons Lab this week launched OpenOver­sight, a web­site the public can use to search for of­fi­cers’ names, badge num­bers and — when avail­able — pho­to­graphs. The first of its kind in the United States, the project en­ables users to search for of­fi­cers by en­ter­ing in­for­ma­tion about their rank, es­ti­mated age, race and gen­der.

The goal is to make it eas­ier for wit­nesses and vic­tims of po­lice mis­con­duct to file re­ports and to cor­rectly identify the of­fi­cers in­volved, said Freddy Mar­tinez, di­rec­tor of Lucy Par­sons Labs.

“We hear anec­do­tally, ‘I don’t know who it was but if I saw their face I would rec­og­nize them,” Mr. Mar­tinez said of peo­ple who have been un­able to file com­plaints. “That was one of the things we were try­ing to ad­dress.”

The project is be­ing launched two years af­ter the fatal po­lice shoot­ing of Laquan McDon­ald, a case that drew na­tional at­ten­tion. A video that showed Of­fi­cer Ja­son Van Dyke fire 16 shots at the 17-year-old boy trig­gered public outcry when it was re­leased last year. Since then, Of­fi­cer Van Dyke was charged with mur­der, the city’s po­lice chief was fired and the Jus­tice Depart­ment opened a fed­eral civil rights in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the po­lice depart­ment’s prac­tices.

But even as of­fi­cials pledged greater trans­parency while work­ing to re­form the po­lice depart­ment, jour­nal­ists and ad­vo­cates have stepped up their own open records re­quests in a bid to give the public more in­for­ma­tion about how the depart­ment op­er­ates.

The jour­nal­ist non­profit group In­vis­i­ble In­sti­tute went to court over ac­cess to po­lice com­plaint records. It suc­ceeded in get­ting them re­leased last year and cre­ated a search­able on­line data­base. The in­for­ma­tion it ob­tained shows that only a frac­tion of com­plaints re­sulted in dis­ci­pline and high­lighted in­stances in which of­fi­cers con­victed of crimes had racked up dozens of com­plaints that in­ves­ti­ga­tors deemed un­founded.

Cit­ing re­cently ob­tained com­plaint data rang­ing back to 1967, the Chicago Tri­bune re­ported last week that seven of­fi­cers had amassed more than 100 com­plaints apiece, while 62 of­fi­cers racked up at least 70 com­plaints.

“Right now, peo­ple make com­plaints and then they never hear back from some­one,” said Cha­clyn Hunt, a civil rights at­tor­ney with In­vis­i­ble In­sti­tute.

She said the crowd­sourc­ing el­e­ment of the OpenOver­sight photo data­base is a good way to ad­dress a prob­lem that the In­de­pen­dent Po­lice Re­view Au­thor­ity, which han­dles po­lice com­plaints, hasn’t de­vised a pol­icy to han­dle.

Through anec­dotes, Ms. Hunt said, she has heard that when a per­son doesn’t have the name or badge num­ber of an of­fi­cer, in­ves­ti­ga­tors might call the po­lice depart­ment to check records for who was dis­patched to a call or was on duty in a spe­cific area. Other times, in­ves­ti­ga­tors show photo ar­rays to the peo­ple mak­ing com­plaints.

“But of­ten they are pho­tos that are taken when the of­fi­cer grad­u­ated from the po­lice academy and could be years old,” she said.

“I think it’s solv­ing the prob­lem from the best way they can from a cit­i­zen an­gle,” she said.

Nei­ther a rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Chicago Po­lice Depart­ment nor the In­de­pen­dent Po­lice Re­view Au­thor­ity re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment on the OpenOver­sight project or the com­plaint process.

There is con­cern among the Chicago po­lice union that the project may put of­fi­cers at risk or po­ten­tially blow the cover of those op­er­at­ing in spe­cial­ized un­der­cover units.

“It seems to me a lit­tle ex­treme,” said Dean An­gelo, pres­i­dent of the Chicago Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice. “There are mech­a­nisms in place to have ev­ery­one eas­ily iden­ti­fied through the ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­ce­dures in place.”


A dash-cam video from the Chicago Po­lice Depart­ment shows Laquan McDon­ald mo­ments be­fore his fatal shoot­ing. Two years later, the OpenOver­sight web­site has been launched to help the public identify po­lice of­fi­cers ac­cused of mis­con­duct.

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