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by Peter Moskos

February 3, 2016

The 1 percent

Out of 12,000 Chicago Cops, 124 are responsible for a third of misconduct lawsuits settled by the city since 2009, costing $34 million. The Tribune (behind a paywall unless you good for the article) reports that 82 percent of the department's officers were not named in any settlements. (Keep in mind that a good chunk of that 82 percent haven't interacted on-duty with a member of the public since Richard J. Daley. The proper denominator here would be the number of cops on the street.):
Of the more than 1,100 cases the city settled since 2009, just 5 percent were for more than $1 million.... [The rest still] cost the city millions of dollars.... A vast majority, 85 percent, were settled for $100,000 or less, which meant the deals did not require City Council approval. And Chicago officers accused of misconduct are rarely disciplined.
Of course there are many unfounded complaints. Just as there are many BS lawsuits filed for a quick monetary settlement. I know that. But just like a criminal arrest 20 times -- God only knows how many crimes he committed without getting caught -- a cop with 57 complaints? God only knows how much shit you really did. Not every mope complains.
While many officers as well as police union officials attribute claims of misconduct to the rough and tumble of working in crime-ridden neighborhoods, complaints against Campbell, Sautkus and their colleagues have often occurred while the group patrolled relatively low-crime areas, focused on quality-of-life issues.
...
The three officers have earned hundreds of awards and commendations from the department for their work. They've also racked up 16 lawsuit settlements since 2009 among them and two other officers who also live in the neighborhood... The city paid $1.5 million to settle those cases.
How the hell does one officer get sued (with payout) seven times in seven years and average about 6 complaints a year? Good God. Hundreds of awards. As long as he kept finding the drugs, he gets awards. Doesn't anybody look for red flags?

I can't help but think of my friend and squadmate who retired as a noble patrol officer after 33(!) years on the mean streets of Baltimore. He once confided in me, half gleefully and half sheepishly, that he hadn't received a single serious complaint in his entire career. Now mind you, in his 30th year, he wasn't exactly setting the curve in number of arrests. But he did his job and did it well. His secret? He was a good cop. He didn't take shit, but he also treated everybody with respect, even those who didn't deserve it.

26 comments:

john mosby said...

Prof, the article is a typical one-sided Fibune hit job. I could do an interlinear translation, but I'll settle for several key points:

- In general, the City settles at the drop of a hat.

- At least one of the settlements is not for a single incident, but for an alleged pattern of incidents by several officers over a long period of time. Counting this whole package as a settlement against just one of the cops is technically correct, but misleading. Also, I probably agree with the city in this case for paying a five-figure sum versus going through thousands of man-hours of litigation.

- One of the mopes' lawyers said his client declined to speak with the Fib because he fears CPD retaliation. Um, no, counselor, your client is gagged under the terms of the settlement - he fears having to give the money back if he blabs....I guess that's technically "CPD retaliation" if "retaliation" means "enforcing a contract you agreed to"....

- Many of the incidents "occurred while the group patrolled relatively low-crime areas, focused on quality-of-life issues": First off, the Fib painting this as coppers run amok in a nice neighborhood is part of Chicago elites' collaboration with catered-to constituencies to pull police out of middle-class neighborhoods and saturate the neighborhoods that neither pay taxes for this service nor appreciate the service. Second, using your corner-boys hypothetical from an earlier post, what's more likely to be a wrong guess: the known dealers on a known drug corner, or the out-of-the-ordinary unfamiliar guys at the 'wrong' house/block? And who's more likely to threaten a suit and have the resources to back it up? Finally, I again make reference to an earlier post of yours, where you decry the elites who just refuse to admit that broken-windows works.

- Also, you can't discount the 'wounded deer' theory: once a copper has a couple of substantiated complaints, word probably gets around and she gets more complaints.

JSM

aNanyMouse said...

Well, John, I rather buy the 'wounded deer' theory. However, a rather good point was made by a reader, Mike Wasilewski, in the Fib page’s Comments section:

“The bigger point of the article is the fact a very small number of officers are named disproportionately, and for seemingly habitual or predictable behaviors. Most sizable departments have those certain officers, who always seem to be at the center of some sh*tstorm, and who cause the other cops around to cringe when they show up or want backup for some new cluster.”

I would just add, I’ll bet that many of these POs get away with so much of this sh*t, because they have “special relationships” with some of the brass.
A boss with any stones will move to hide POs like this (e.g. to beats where they cannot, or dare not, mess with REALLY powerful locals), much as the Church tried to hide the molesters.

Peter Moskos said...

John, even if all that is true, what about the fact some some cops are simply dicks who shouldn't interact with anybody, much less the public? Certainly I can think of one or two in Baltimore who fit this profile. Mind you, I haven't seem them do anything criminal. (And being a dick isn't a crime.) But I wouldn't want to work with them and on the street they do more harm than good. How do you get the police organization to recognize them as trouble makers (despite their amazing "productivity") and keep them from poisoning police/public relations?

john mosby said...

Prof and mouse, citizen complaints are not the only, or even best, way to bring dick cops to management's attention. As both of you pointed out, everyone knows who the dicks are. Citizen complaints, for the reasons I laid out above, can be 'noise' that hides that signal, especially if they cause the PD to circle the wagons. This is yet another way that settling can be counterproductive: If the case is heard in a public, relatively neutral forum, then the PO has to be dealt with in a more final way, either exonerated or officially held liable. Also, if the city develops a rep for not settling, skells and plaintiff attorneys will have less incentive to complain, so the noise decreases.

JSM

Peter Moskos said...

That's a good point. But complaints do give the department the legal and moral backing to take action in the face of civil service protection and union opposition. How else do you document/quantify assholedom in a way that would withstand discrimination lawsuits and the like when you fire somebody?

And I don't think cities should automatically settle lawsuits to save money. There is a great issue and a long-game to think about. But no matter, somebody who gets a complaint a month, settled or not, even if some of them are unfounded, is not a good cop.

john mosby said...

Here's a proposal for an ADQS (assholedom documentation and quantification system) that might do the necessary:

- citizen complaints, modified by a city atty that actually litigates and an independent admin review body that is truly neutral and realistic, as the eminence grise lurking in the background;

- 360 degree reviews of officers. Someone among the boss, peers, and subordinates of a dick will come forward and say he's a dick. Then what? We have to be careful about turning this into a popularity contest or a way to vote a tough boss off the island, but this info should be used for non-punitive admin decisions, retraining, reassignments, etc.

- some kind of anonymous internal complaint system, also oriented more toward non-punitive resolutions. In fact, don't even call it a complaint system - call it a spot report system, and encourage positive as well as negative observations. Has to be carefully managed to keep it from turning into a vote-off-the-island system.

My main idea is that the threat of getting roped into a substantiated lawsuit or worse is motivation for peers to speak up, especially if they can do so in a way that is not seen as automatically consigning the guy to doom and ruin. Basically, an official channel for 'i really don't want to work with this guy.'

The connected guy who's the subject of bad 360s or anonymous dime drops can be routed to an inside spot. The unconnected guy in the same situation can be given corrective training, non-punitive counseling, and the like.

In a unionized shop, these measures can be kept segregated from formal discipline or promotion processes. The ability to 360 review and spot-report your boss will sweeten the deal.

How does this ADQS help you actually fire the few true malefactors before they do real damage? Still a sticky wicket. Maybe it doesn't, not directly, but if the other half of the system is working - the agency fighting complaints and suits so that only the well-founded ones win - that may help you to fire the small number of true baddies, while scaring others off.

Also, there's always the possibility that peer input will actually encourage professionals to be professional. You may not see some dicks get fired, because they may actually stop being dicks.

I dunno- just a starting point....

JSM

Peter Moskos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
aNanyMouse said...

Great stuff, guys, esp. on anonymous surveys & secret ballots! In my day, (certain places in) the army had such ballots (still do?). I say that outfits should do this at least twice per year.

Typo alerts: “designed to stifle honest criticize”; you mean “criticism”?
And “back in the Eastern and I sergeant I knew and respected was back on the street. He thought we was a real cop's cop and loved and respected by his squad.” I’ll bet you meant “a sergeant” and “We thought he….”

aNanyMouse said...

On secret ballots in the Academy, and “If your name shows up on (say) more than half of the ballots, you're done”:
I’d have this implemented in active (post-Academy) forces, so that “If your name shows up on (say) more than half of the ballots, you're confined to desk duty, or beats where you get no real chance to mess with the public (w/o getting caught red handed, and thus becoming a candidate for termination).”

Peter Moskos said...

Me and my typos. Alas, I can't edit/correct even my own comments. But I'll delete it and repost it here:

My favorite among those is 360 degree review. They use that in England and Wales, by the way. An ranking officer can request it (it probably looks good for promotion or something) and I never heard anything bad about it.

But the real benefit of 360 review is that you learn honestly about what people think in a paramilitary organization designed to stifle honest criticism, especially from underlings. There is real benefit in constructive criticism.

A couple years ago, when I was back visiting the Eastern, a sergeant I knew and respected was back on the street. He thought he was a real cop's cop and loved and respected by his squad. Needless to say, that opinion wasn't shared by his squad or even me after I saw the way he acted on the street.

I have no problem with things being a little bit more of a "popularity contest." Not in the sense of everybody needs to like you, but if *everybody* absolutely *hates* you, well then, you're no good.

My solution to get rid of bad officers starts at the end of the academy. On a secret ballot, have all the trainees write down the names of any person they think will be a bad cop and/or would be afraid to work with. If your name shows up on (say) more than half of the ballots, you're done. End of story. I think that would weed out the bottom 2-5 percent.

aNanyMouse said...

More on ballots on bad POs just after, vs. well-after, the Academy:
Dumping bad rookie cops (via such ballots) is good, but many guys start out idealistic, but end up embittered by limp-wristed judges, unfair brass, etc. So we need continual secret ballots to keep such guys (e.g. Campbell, Van Dyke?) on their toes.

Peter Moskos said...

Yeah, in my academy class there were some people I would not have identified as bad who did not turn out OK. In the academy you could weed out the more obviously mentally deficient recruits. But the gung-ho types are a mixed bag. You need to give them some time and see them on the street.

Fun fact: At least 10 percent of my academy class has been fired (or quit before facing the axe). Any academy that graduates nearly 100 percent of recruits should be suspect. But it's tough and unfair (and unrealistic) to tell any one person to point a finger and say, "I don't think you should be a cop." There's personal and political liability, along with real and perceived bias. That's why it has to be collective and secret ballot.

aNanyMouse said...

Yeah, in my academy class, over ¼ got tossed, no doubt many by failing the Use of Force, the Run, or other scenario tests. So I’ll bet the brass there had a good system.
But after much time at working beats, a bad cop needs to be told, if not "I don't think you should be a cop", then "we don't think you should be working real beats, until we're satisfied that you've gotten a grip. So, we'll hide you 'til we figure out how to figure you out, even if that means you meanwhile clean latrines."

Peter Moskos said...

Wow. In my class nobody got booted.

bacchys said...

"He was a good cop. He didn't take shit, but he also treated everybody with respect, even those who didn't deserve it. "

That bears repeating, and good on your friend.

The "gag" rules need to be prohibited when it comes to government settlements over misconduct.

Just as the "mope" (to use someone else's term) are usually good for more crimes than just the convictions would tell us, exactly why should we think that complaints are the only measure of misconduct on the part of police?

m said...


If an officer is sued even once, let alone seven times in seven years, do they have any consequences for making the city payout millions to settle? When the city is settling and paying out that much money they are basically admitting guilt on the officers part, if the officer was involved in the complaint. When a criminal admits guilt they must serve their time/sentence and whatever goes along with it. Shouldn't the officer have to do the same regardless of him being a cop?

Peter Moskos said...

Those lawsuits are paid out, legally and morally, without admission of guilt. City bean counters decide it's cheaper to pay the complainant than pay layers to fight it. So they do. It pisses off cops to no end. It probably costs money in the long run because there is a small cottage industry of suing the city (not just police, mind you) for BS reasons just to get an almost guaranteed small payouts.

Anyway, there is never an admission of guilt (even in the cases when there is guilt). That's the condition of settlement. If you want guilt, don't take the money and go to court.

That said, I've long advocated shifting that money to the police budget and then paying lawsuits out of the police budget. You would see a real change in police culture to minimize those payouts if the money was coming from the PD. There's something strange about the fact that those cops that cost the city millions never pay a cent. Nor does the police department that doesn't get them off the street, as per aNanyMouse.

tydenee said...

Hi Peter,

Your friend was primarily the good cop, after doing his job the right way, but watching some do it the wrong way, what made him stay before those years that he left? I know that was his job, to take down the criminals and reduce crime within certain parts of the neighboorhoods. However, before leaving was there a situation in which he was put in, that he thought the other cops were doing in the wrong?

Kind Regards,
Ty

Hoffza01 said...

Personally I can't imagine what some police officers go through on a daily basis in a city like Chicago. It would seem that a lot of times complaints for police officers are inevitable, as you will always have that ignorance. Lawsuits that involve police officers however is another whole spectrum that's dealing with a side of corruption and greed that probably happens in every city. Anyways good read and enjoyed the book on flogging.

Kali Irving said...

The fact that the city is paying any sort of money to settle these cases and complaints is what leaves room for corruption in the criminal justice system. Just like any profession there are going to be individuals who abuse their power and give their profession a bad name, but they should not be rewarded for this kind of behavior. Officers are supposed to be protectors and fair enforcers of the law, any complaint should be seriously looked into and not just swept under the rug as is it so often. Holding these individuals to a higher standard not only in the public eye but also when it comes to the punishments they receive would reduce the margin for misconduct. Although it may only be a small percentage of officers who have serious misconduct issues, it would save the city money and the public's peace of mind if there were no corruption. This is ideal but when will live in a society that only cares about results and not the way those results were received then there are bound to be some issues. Hopefully departments start cracking down and realistically punishing officers who abuse their position.

Eric said...

These officer's should be closely looked at after multiple complaints have come in; however, having said that the supervisor above them might be good friends and perhaps this is how many officers get around the consequences. It is the job of the superior to hold this officer accountable for his actions, sounds like there the officers might not be the only problem.

In my opinion, it does not matter how well the officer performs, if that officer cannot be integral all around, then he has no business being a police officer. Yes, many people might appreciate the services of this officer, and it shows by all the awards he has, but that only shows half of who he is.

nicheyerly said...

16. First off, I have to say great job to your friend who never had a complaint in 33 years of being on the force. Though I do have a few questions. Should a cop be fired because he had one bad day a year? Also getting sued 7 times and losing looks very bad but what was the actual number that was won in all 7 cases? I also have a very hard time understanding why you do not reward good police work just due to the officer having a few lawsuits against him? If you do not reward his good police work, what kind of message does that send to all the other officers? I also find it very hard to believe that there are not red flags in place to remove potentially bad cops or would there be even more 100,000 dollar plus lawsuits.

sunglim said...

With the controversy of police brutality and discrimination, police departments are beginning to implement the use of cameras worn on the officers person. I would imagine this not going over to well for those that have had multiple complaints or lawsuits filed against them. How can an officer effectively do their job without the constant worry of the public image and scrutiny of management in the field?

Kyle said...

Law enforcement liability insurance for cops is more pratical and can directly restrain dick cops. Like being a dick? Go broke or be nice.

Unlimited amount of tax dollars for settlements simply doesn't make sense.

bacchys said...

"16. First off, I have to say great job to your friend who never had a complaint in 33 years of being on the force. Though I do have a few questions. Should a cop be fired because he had one bad day a year? Also getting sued 7 times and losing looks very bad but what was the actual number that was won in all 7 cases? I also have a very hard time understanding why you do not reward good police work just due to the officer having a few lawsuits against him? If you do not reward his good police work, what kind of message does that send to all the other officers? I also find it very hard to believe that there are not red flags in place to remove potentially bad cops or would there be even more 100,000 dollar plus lawsuits."

We sometimes put people in prison for having "one bad day a year." It depends on what they did.

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