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Archaic Disciplinary System Allows Chicago Police to Delay Punishment

by David Reutter

The Chicago Police Department (“CPD”) has endured criticism for officer misconduct. An investigation by ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune found that the city’s archaic system for disciplining officers allows it to avoid or long delay discipline, allowing officers who should be off the streets to be on patrol.

In one case, it took 11 years for an officer to be disciplined. That case involved CPD officer William Levigne. He told investigators that on an October 2006 evening, as he was driving home, that Walter Whitehead, who was driving his 16-year-old son Brandon home from work, cut him off.

The Whiteheads said Levigne overtook them in his Monte Carlo as he pointed his gun at them, then ordered them out of their car at a stop light, forced them out of the car, and handcuffed Walter.

Levigne called 911, asking for help from “a brother in blue,” as he blocked traffic. “I’ve get two offenders in custody—tried to kill me here!”

As Levigne was not in uniform, Brandon was terrified and called 911, too. “Can you hear him?” Brandon asked the operator. She could. “Off the (expletive) phone!” Levigne yelled.

The Whiteheads filed a complaint with CPD, doubting Levigne would face discipline. “I never expected him to,” said Walter Whitehead. “We know how the system works.”

While CPD’s disciplinary system is faulty, a civil suit netted a $78,700 settlement for the Whiteheads from the City of Chicago.

Initially, the Independent Police Review Authority (“IPRA”) found that Levigne was wrong, and it recommended a 60-day suspension. Levigne filed a grievance through the police union, and eight years later, the city, in 2014, reduced the suspension to five days and removed the finding that Levigne lied about the incident. That same year, Levigne was promoted to detective, but his discipline for the 2006 incident was not placed in his record nor did he serve the suspension until 2017.

How could such an important matter languish for so long? CPD still uses a paper system for officer-discipline cases, so when paperwork gets moved on to another stage, such as an appeal, nothing occurs until the paperwork returns to officials responsible for closing the matter. Without a computer system to track disciplinary cases, they can languish for years.

After video of a police officer shooting teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times went public in 2015, Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and pushed for a new ordinance that revamped the IPRA. Actually, the IPRA was shuttered and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (“COPA”) replaced it on September 15, 2017.

Yet, the COPA is just as hamstrung as the IPRA. “Even if COPA gets everything right, there is this process that happens after where things can go off the rails, and that is what people should focus on and be concerned about fixing,” said Sharon Fairley, COPA’s former chief administrator who resigned to run for Illinois attorney general.

Records are still kept on paper and shuffled between COPA and CPD. To assure cases are not lost in the shuffle, new rules are in place. “Since the beginning of this year, the department has started a review into older cases that have a final disciplinary determination to ensure that they have been processed, that officers have properly served their discipline if applicable, and that the cases are ultimately closed,” said CPD spokesman Frank Giancamilli.

The COPA was intended to create transparency, but it cannot release its report on any case until it is final. “The longer the delays, that diminishes trust and it diminishes transparency by not providing a prompt window into how the agency charged with investigating police misconduct is conducting its investigations,” said University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman.

In early 2017, the U.S. Justice Department found that significant delays contributed to an ineffective disciplinary system. Without the fear of consequences for improper actions, some police officers feel they can act with impunity. That is costing the City of Chicago millions in settlements. According to an estimate from the Better Government Association, from 2004 to 2015, Chicago paid $642 million in police misconduct and brutality cases. 

Sources: Chicago Tribune;

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