The likely outcome when citizens complain of police misconduct in Chicago is now widely known. Fewer than two percent of complaints against police end in discipline, the Invisible Institute found in data from 56,000 allegations of misconduct over several years. Thousands of cases are dismissed because the complaining citizen is unwilling to sign an affidavit in support of the complaint.
But even when complaints are upheld, it turns out, officers still often escape harsh punishment. The Police Accountability Task Force, formed in the wake of widespread protests of Chicago police abuse last year, reported last week that more often than not, arbitrators reduced the discipline in the rare cases when it was imposed. In one of every seven cases, the discipline was eliminated altogether.
On top of that, the report notes that officers who suffer discipline routinely can lessen the blow by trading in unused leave – a system called “options.” The task force report states, “When a CPD member is suspended, he or she is not necessarily required to miss work or lose pay.”
On Monday, the Sun-Times showed that system at work in the case of Detective Nicholas Spanos. John Escalante, the interim superintendent until last week, originally suspended Spanos for his role in the botched homicide investigation of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew in David Koschman’s homicide. But two months later, using “options,” Escalante agreed to permit Spanos to forfeit time off, cutting that suspension from one year down to two months.
Such actions, the task force said of options in general, “sends a signal to the rank and file generally that the disciplinary system lacks rigor and bite.” Because there is little risk of losing member’s services, there is little incentive to prevent misconduct.
Of course, options are only one way in which the Chicago police have avoided significant discipline. The task force report notes 1500 officers accumulated ten or more complaints. That shows, the task force said, “no serious embrace by CPD leadership of the need to make accountability a core value.”