Chicago to Overhaul Troubled Police Department The city of Chicago continues its search for someone to run its troubled police department. Whoever gets the job will take control of the department after one of its most scandalous years in recent memory. In the past 12 months, Chicago police officers have been involved in several videotaped beatings, alleged burglary rings — even an alleged murder-for-hire plot — to say nothing of past problems with the department that have bubbled to the surface. Ben Calhoun reports from Chicago Public Radio.

Chicago to Overhaul Troubled Police Department

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Even when it comes to hardened, big city police departments, Chicago has had an especially bad year. Since last fall, there have been a staggering number of high profile allegations of police abuse or corruption within the department.

Chicago Public Radio's Ben Calhoun reports those charges are igniting old hostilities, spurring criminal investigations and creating a political tug-of-war.

BEN CALHOUN: In Chicago, there had been so many police scandals in the past year or so that even people who pay close attention have trouble listing all of them.

Mr. JOHN LOEVY (Lawyer): I can try.

CALHOUN: John Loevy is a Chicago lawyer who specializes in police misconduct lawsuits. And he starts with the first videotaped beating.

Mr. LOEVY: A really large police officer just pounding on a much smaller woman.

CALHOUN: That was the notorious video of a flannel-clad, off-duty officer beating a female bartender after she refused to serve him more alcohol.

Mr. LOEVY: That one, and then there's some businessman that got beat up by a group of off-duty police officers. And that, too, was on videotape.

CALHOUN: As was a police officer who shot an unarmed man at a train station. Then, there was the department's special operation section - a small elite group that prosecutors alleged was running a criminal operation inside the police department.

Mr. LOEVY: Robbing people, kidnapping people, even murder for hire.

CALHOUN: Last month, Loevy represented a man who said two police officers sodomized him with a screwdriver. A federal jury ruled in his favor, and the city will pay him $4 million. Add to that list, a federal investigation into allegations of past police torture. Charges of police misconducts have divided Chicago for decades, usually along familiar lines of class and race. There have long been people who've said the department doesn't do enough to investigate, prevent or punish abuse, that traditional response from many elected officials has been that there's bound to be a few bad apples.

Alderman TONI PRECKWINKLE (Chicago): There's been a kind of litany of cases of police abuse, which I think have jaundiced even those most sympathetic to our police officers.

CALHOUN: Chicago Alderman Toni Preckwinkle is playing a key role in the latest battle over police misconduct, which has involved a power struggle at the highest levels of city government. It started in July, when a federal judge said the public had a right to know about officers with a lot of excessive force complaints on their record. The city said, at the very least, it would give that information to alderman. Preckwinkle asked for a list of officers with 10 or more complaints of excessive force.

Alderman PRECKWINKLE: We need to know who those officers are, and then we need to be able to look in to the substance of it.

CALHOUN: Preckwinkle says that list would provide a window into how tough the department is on misconduct. But even after the court said the officers' name should be released to the public, even after the city said it would give her those names…

Alderman PRECKWINKLE: The list was provided to us redacted, which just means that everything with the names of the officers are blacked out.

CALHOUN: Now, 28 of the city's 50 aldermen are demanding a list with names, and they've pursued that fight in federal court. Their demands have pitted them against Chicago mayor, Richard Daley.

Mayor RICHARD DALEY (Chicago): These are only allegations.

CALHOUN: Speaking recently at an event on the city's northwest side, Mayor Daley argued the officers' names should remain confidential. And he criticized aldermen who were asking for them.

Mayor DALEY: It's easy to criticize police. Kick them when their down, kick and keep kicking them. Your home, see your name in the press, fine. I guess that's what you do life.

CALHOUN: In response to recent scandals, Daley and the department have made reforms. They closed down the department's troubled special operations section and overhauled police procedures for investigating misconduct complaints. But recently, even top police brass told the city council that more would have to be done to repair the damage of the last year. Former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper studies police misconduct.

Mr. NORM STAMPER (Former Police Chief, Seattle): All the big cities do have those problems. And they've got those chapters and their history.

CALHOUN: Stamper says, in policing circles, Chicago's department has long been known for a culture that can breed abuse.

Mr. STAMPER: If you're asking for an outsider's observation about the reputation of the department, it is, in fact, a reputation of a toughness that leads to take-no-prisoners mentality.

CALHOUN: Even when compared to other big city departments like New York or L.A.?

Mr. STAMPER: I believe so.

CALHOUN: Improving that reputation will be a challenge for who ever takes over the Chicago police department. Over the summer, the department's superintendent stepped down amid all the scandals, and the job has been open ever since. Officials closed the application process yesterday. As it often is in Chicago, the final choice will be up to Mayor Richard Daley. For NPR News, I'm Ben Calhoun in Chicago.

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