Police corruption can’t be ignored
January 16, 2013 7:00PM
Updated: February 19, 2013 1:58PM
More than 300 Chicago police officers have been convicted of serious crimes since the 1960s. We list them and our proposed recommendations for curing police corruption in a new report to the mayor and the aldermen. Police crimes include beating innocent citizens, protecting drug dealers, accepting bribes, murder and lying about torture. Thirty percent of these crimes involve police officers convicted of illegal drug dealing and protecting street gangs.
The problem of police corruption is not caused by occasional flawed police officers or “bad apples.” Rather, the apple barrel is rotten. Too many police officers violate citizens’ rights, engage in corruption and commit crimes while avoiding discipline or prosecution.
The blue code of silence and deliberate indifference of police supervisors, the police board, mayor and aldermen have allowed the situation to worsen.
The outright cost of the crimes, corruption, and cover-ups to city taxpayers have been hundreds of millions of dollars — $30 million in payouts this week alone for settling police misconduct cases. The loss of civilian respect for police and their willingness to cooperate in reporting crime is even greater.
The details of the 300 convictions and the changes in police corruption patterns are detailed in our University of Illinois at Chicago report at www.uic.edu/depts/pols/ChicagoPolitics/policecorruption.pdf. Our most important findings are:
† Police crime and corruption is a major problem that persists unchecked.
† The “blue code of silence” protects bad cops and requires both internal reforms and external control if it is to change.
† The old pattern of payoffs by the mob to top cops has changed to local police officers being bought off by drug dealers and street gangs.
† Police superintendents, mayors, police boards and aldermen have failed to provide adequate anti-corruption oversight and leadership.
To curb these problems will require a combination of external control and internal incentives.
The current police board should be replaced with either an elected civilian police board or a new appointed board of good-government advocates, civil rights leaders and respected former judges, prosecutors and inspector generals.
The current police board is unable to supervise the Police Department effectively. Even when the superintendent recommends firing or disciplining corrupt police officers, the current Police Board overturns his recommendations in 63 percent of the cases.
Internally, the police culture that promotes a blue code of silence must also change. The Police Code of Ethics and Department Rules must emphasize that officers are required to report any crime or unlawful action committed by a fellow police officer. The department should provide special recognition, accommodations and promotions to officers who report police corruption and crimes.
The department needs to increase training especially for sergeants and front-line supervisors on how to recognize ethical problems of officers, particularly in the war on drugs, how to advise them and how to hold them accountable.
Ending police crime and corruption needs to go to the top of the mayoral and aldermanic agendas.
Communities, civic groups, business leaders and citizens must demand police reform, now.
Dick Simpson is the chairman of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.