Study Finds Misconduct Spreads Among Police Officers Like Contagion

According to new research, reassigning police officers with a history of misconduct makes it more likely that their new peers will also misbehave.

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Behaviors—both good and bad—can spread between peers in any environment, including the police force. Image Credit: kali9, iStock

Nearly five years after fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014, former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke is now serving a seven-year prison sentence on a conviction of second-degree murder.

But firing 16 bullets at a black teenager holding a knife was likely far from Van Dyke’s first offense. Since he began policing in 2001, at least 25 separate complaints have been filed against Van Dyke by civilians and fellow officers, most involving excessive force. Prior to the most recent charges, none of these allegations resulted in disciplinary action, leaving Van Dyke in the employ of the Chicago Police Department until he was stripped of the position during indictments.

Van Dyke’s case is extreme. But his trajectory wasn’t anomalous. Rather than being fired, officers accused of stealing, lying, mistreating civilians, or otherwise abusing their power are often allowed to retain their roles as public servants, with some rerouted into new positions in the force as a reprimand for bad behavior.

Now, new research published today in the journal Nature Human Behavior suggests that retaining misbehaving officers in police organizations might have far worse consequences than leaving accusations unaddressed: It could actually propagatemisconduct itself.

Even the well-intended shuffle of reassignment, often doled out in attempt to stem the transgressions of offending officers, could be having the exact opposite effect, spreading misdeeds from individuals to their peers like a behavioral contagion.

“I’m really happy to see this study, because it’s very hard to do research on this topic,” says Carol Archbold, a criminologist studying police accountability at North Dakota State University who was not involved in the study. “This shows that it’s important to have accountability in place to track and identify these officers. If you don’t correct the problematic behavior, you’re just moving the problem.”

These findings confirm what’s been hinted at by prior research, including work that has focused on police misconduct in the United States. Most older studies, however, relied on data collected from surveys and interviews of police officers, making it tough to tell if patterns of misconduct were a result of the ripple effect of peer-to-peer influence, or if individuals simply choose to associate with peers with similar inclinations.

The new study, however, took an unprecedented approach. To construct an effective timeline of officers’ actions, behavioral economists Edika Quispe-Torreblanca and Neil Stewart leveraged four years of records from the London Metropolitan Police Service, analyzing data from 35,000 individual police personnel between 2011 and 2014. As officers moved from appointment to appointment, the researchers tabulated allegations of misconduct levied against them and their coworkers (a common proxy for misconduct in these types of studies). Unlike its predecessors, the study could pinpoint instances in which the track records of a misbehaving officer’s new peers took a downturn after that person came onto the scene—changes that hinted strongly at cause and effect.

“The [authors] were able to get rid of many of the issues that other research faces,” says Ojmarrh Mitchell, a criminologist at the University of South Florida who authored a commentary on the new study. “[These results] indicate a causal relationship, and that’s a remarkable finding.”

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Studies have shown that a small fraction of police officers are responsible for a disproportionate number of acts of misconduct. Image Credit: ChiccoDodiFC, iStock

The new study found that, as officers with records of misconduct transitioned between working groups within the police force, they consistently increased the likelihood that those around them would be accused of bad behavior.

This wasn’t very surprising, Stewart says. But no one had ever put an exact number to how strong these effects were—and even he and Quispe-Torreblanca were taken aback by its magnitude: For every 10 percent increase in the proportion of a police officer’s peers with a history of misconduct (for instance, adding one allegedly misbehaving member to a group of 10), that officer’s chances of engaging in misdeeds in the next three months rose by nearly 8 percent.

“Given how frequently police officers are transferred to different units in response to bad behavior, this contagion effect is really important,” Mitchell says.

The effect is also likely not restricted to wayfaring officers in transition: Though more difficult to measure, bad behavior probably also disseminates within existing groups, Stewart says.

What’s not yet clear, however, is the root of the infectious nature of police misconduct. But this is far from the first study to find that our peers hold serious sway over our actions under a variety of circumstances. “I don’t think this is a police problem as much as a human being problem,” Stewart says.

And humans tend to look to the people around them for guidance on how to behave. “We are a social species, and fitting in with a group is just a very powerful part of our nature,” says Linda Treviño, an expert in organizational behavior and ethics at Pennsylvania State University who was not involved in the study. “If everyone in a social context is doing things in a particular way, ethical or unethical, most people will follow their lead.”

Addressing the issue will likely require interventions on multiple fronts, Mitchell says. One solution might include improving methods of identifying and disciplining (and not reassigning) a small faction of particularly problematic officers in the force who are responsible for a disproportionately large share of police misconduct—and might be repeatedly seeding bad behavior in others. In spite of evidence that bad behavior often concentrates in a minority of corrupt cops, few officers are disciplined or fired in the aftermath of misconduct. Even among those who are terminated, some quickly end up rehired in other jurisdictions, potentially widening their reach.

“Bad officers stick around for much longer than they should,” Mitchell says. “Removal needs to be easier than it has been.”

But the larger issue at hand might be cultural, Treviño says. If police organizations as a whole remain tolerant of misconduct, these issues are unlikely to get resolved anytime soon. “Managers need to look at the entire system that is creating the social environment that supports the bad behavior,” she says. “It’s about the context you create…if there’s leadership that says, ‘We have values, this is the way we behave, this is what the expectations are,’ if a toxic person comes along, they’ll get spit out.”

Part of this overhaul might require rethinking the infamous “code of silence” that prevails among law enforcement officers, many of whom have been accused of turning a blind eye to crooked behavior amongst colleagues in the field in an effort to preserve camaraderie. Those violating the code have suffered serious repercussions, including, perhaps most infamously, Frank Serpico, who was ostracized and abandoned by his fellow police officers after whistleblowing on the NYPD’s rampant corruption in 1971.

“Police executives need to foster an environment that encourages officers to say something if they see something,” Archbold says. “It really begins and ends with encouraging officers to report…and making officers feel supported by peers and supervisors if they do.”

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Many officers maintain clean records. But for those who misbehave, there aren’t always consequences. Between 1975 and 1996, for instance, less than 2 percent of NYPD officers were terminated for misconduct. Image Credit: Travel Wild, iStock

Simply building and maintaining archives like the one analyzed in the new study, however, could increase accountability, Archbold says. Though similar compilations haven’t traditionally been common in the United States, a nationwide effort by the USA TODAY Network recently identified more than 85,000 law enforcement officerswho have been investigated or disciplined for acts of misconduct over the last decade—a “treasure trove” of data that could yield powerful follow-up research in the future, she adds.

On a smaller scale, early intervention systems that enable organizations to monitor problematic behavior could flag officers who might benefit from immediate retraining, counseling, and supervision, Archbold says. “The spread [of misconduct] can be stopped if it’s tracked, and if something’s done about it.”

In the meantime, it’s worth keeping in mind how many working members of the police force maintain clean records, Stewart says. The contagiousness of behavior remains a two-way street. There’s nothing to say that ethical attitudes aren’t transmitted between peers, too—or even that negative effects are irreversible. In their analysis, the researchers also found that when the number of deviant officers in a cohort went down, so did the chances of its remaining members engaging in misconduct.

In other words, an antidote does exist—one that’s capable of tempering the malady, even as it spreads.

“Peer effects work both ways,” Treviño says. “A strong, ethical social environment is a very powerful positive tool.”


KATHERINE J. WU, “Study Finds Misconduct Spreads Among Police Officers Like Contagion”,


Chicago cops acquitted of cover-up charge in black teen’s killing

Relatives of Laquan McDonald, killed in 2014, call ruling step backwards for black community’s fight for justice.

Reverend Marvin Hunter: 'To say that these men are not guilty is to say that Jason Van Dyke is not guilty' [Noreen Nasir/AP]
Reverend Marvin Hunter: ‘To say that these men are not guilty is to say that Jason Van Dyke is not guilty’ [Noreen Nasir/AP]

Activists and relatives of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager in the United States who was killed by a white police officer more than four years ago, have decried a court ruling that acquitted three current and former Chicago officers of conspiring to protect a white colleague by lying about the circumstances around the fatal shooting.

The October 2014 killing of 17-year-old McDonald, which was captured on police video, triggered months of protests and became emblematic of long-standing police abuse in Chicago, the country’s third-largest city.

On Thursday, Judge Domenica Stephenson acquitted officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney and detective David March of trying to cover up the shooting, dismissing as just one perspective the shocking dashcam video of McDonald’s killing that also led to a federal investigation of the police department and the rare murder conviction of an officer.

White Chicago cop convicted of murder in shooting of black teen (2:22)

In casting off the prosecution’s entire case, the judge seemed to accept many of the same defence arguments that were rejected in October by jurors who convicted officer Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder and aggravated battery.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Today’s acquittals are a painful reminder of the complete lack of structural accountability for CPD. We are committed to working with our clients and partners to ensure the ‘code of silence’ stops shielding officers from accountability <a href=”;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#justiceforlaquan</a&gt; <a href=””></a></p>&mdash; ACLU of Illinois (@ACLUofIL) <a href=””>January 17, 2019</a></blockquote>
He is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, facing up to 20 years in prison for the second-degree murder conviction and up to 30 years for each of the 16 counts of aggravated battery, one for each shot he fired at McDonald, who was carrying a knife.

The judge said the video showed only one viewpoint of the confrontation and that there was no indication the officers tried to hide evidence.

“The evidence shows just the opposite,” she said. She singled out how they preserved the graphic video at the heart of the case.

THE LISTENING POST: Cops, lies and videotape: the death of Laquan McDonald (9:05)

‘Sad day for America’

McDonald’s family questioned how the two cases could produce such different decisions.

His great uncle, the Reverend Marvin Hunter, told reporters that the verdict means “that if you are a police officer you can lie, cheat and steal”, adding that it proved the city’s legal system was “corrupt”.

“This is not justice,” he said. “To say that these men are not guilty is to say that Jason Van Dyke is not guilty,” Hunter added, describing the verdict was a step backwards for the black community’s struggles for justice.

“It is a sad day for America.”

Karen Sheley, of the ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement: “The court’s decision does nothing to exonerate a police department so rotten that a teenager can be murdered – on video – by one of its officers.”

The case has provoked periodic street protests since 2015, when the video came to light, and the acquittals could renew that movement.

Eric Russell, executive director of Tree of Life Justice League, a police accountability advocacy group from Chicago’s West Side, said he and other leaders expected hundreds to protest against the verdict on Friday before Van Dyke’s sentencing.

“We will be down here tomorrow by the hundreds, and we will cry out for justice for Laquan,” Russell said.

Special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said she hoped the verdict would not make officers reluctant to come forward when they see misconduct. Her key witness, officer Dora Fontaine, described how she had become a pariah in the department and was called a “rat” by fellow officers.

The trial was watched closely by law enforcement and critics of the department, which has long had a reputation for condoning police brutality.

Walsh, Gaffney and March were accused of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice. All but Gaffney have since left the department. They asked the judge, rather than a jury, to hear the evidence.

After the verdict, Walsh would say only that the ordeal of being charged and tried was “heart-breaking for my family, a year and a half”.

In her ruling, the judge rejected prosecution arguments that the video demonstrated officers were lying when they described McDonald as moving and posing a threat even after he was shot.

“An officer could have reasonably believed an attack was imminent,” she said. “It was borne out in the video that McDonald continued to move after he fell to the ground” and refused to relinquish a knife.

The video appeared to show the teen collapsing in a heap after the first few shots and moving in large part because bullets kept striking his body for 10 more seconds.

The judge said it’s not unusual for two witnesses to describe events in starkly different ways. “It does not necessarily mean that one is lying,” she said.

The judge also noted several times that the vantage points of various officers who witnessed the shooting were “completely different”. That could explain why their accounts did not sync with what millions of people saw in the video.

FAULT LINES: Confidential: Surveilling Black Lives Matter (25:53)

Both Van Dyke’s trial and that of the three other officers hinged on the video, which showed the former opening fire within seconds of getting out of his police vehicle and continuing to shoot the teenager while he was lying on the street. Police were responding to a report of a male who was breaking into trucks and stealing radios on the city’s South Side.

Prosecutors alleged that Gaffney, March and Walsh, who were Van Dyke’s partners, submitted false reports about what happened to try to prevent or shape any criminal investigation of the shooting. Among other things, they said the officers falsely claimed that Van Dyke shot McDonald after the latter aggressively swung the knife at the officers and that he kept shooting the teen because McDonald was trying to get up still armed with the knife.

McDonald had used the knife to puncture a tyre on Gaffney’s police vehicle, but the video shows that he did not swing it at the officers before Van Dyke shot him and that he appeared to be incapacitated after falling to the ground.

Attorneys for Gaffney, Walsh and March used the same strategy that the defence used at Van Dyke’s trial by placing all the blame on McDonald.

It was McDonald’s refusal to drop his knife and other threatening actions that “caused these officers to see what they saw”, March’s lawyer, James McKay, told the court. “This is a case about law and order (and) about Laquan McDonald not following any laws that night.”

City Hall released the video to the public in November 2015 – 13 months after the shooting – and acted only because a judge ordered it to do so. The charges against Van Dyke were not announced until the day of the video’s release.

The case cost the police superintendent his job and was widely seen as the reason the county’s top prosecutor was voted out of office a few months later. It was also thought to be a major factor in Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s decision not to seek a third term.

The accusations triggered a federal investigation, resulting in a blistering report that found Chicago officers routinely used excessive force and violated the rights of residents, particularly minorities. The city implemented a new policy that requires the video of fatal police shootings to be released within 60 days, accelerated a programme to equip all officers with body cameras and adopted other reforms to change the way police shootings are investigated.

US: Chicago police accused of racist use of ‘bait trucks’ tactic (2:16)

According to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database, at least 995 people have been killed by the police in the US in 2018. The Post found that more than 980 people were killed by police the previous year.

The Guardian identified more than 1,090 police killings in 2017.

Nearly a quarter of those killed by police in 2016 were African Americans, although the group accounted for roughly 12 percent of the total US population.

According to watchdog group The Sentencing Project, African American men are six times more likely to be arrested than white men.

These disparities, particularly the killing of African Americans by police, has prompted the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, a popular campaign claiming its objective is ending police violence and dismantling structural racism.

The Contract: Chicago's Police Union
, aljazeera, “Chicago cops acquitted of cover-up charge in black teen’s killing”,

Police ‘Code of Silence’ Is on Trial After Murder by Chicago Officer

Three Chicago police officers — from left, David March, Thomas Gaffney and Joseph Walsh — are accused of covering up what had really happened when a white police officer shot Laquan McDonald, a black teenager.CreditCreditPool photo by Zbigniew Bzdak

By Monica Davey


CHICAGO — Inside a cramped and worn courtroom, three white police officers are on trial in connection with the fatal shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald. But these officers never fired their guns. Their crime, prosecutors say, was concocting a story to cover up for a colleague who did.

As prosecutors tell it, Chicago police officers shooed away eyewitnesses after the shooting on Oct. 20, 2014, and then made up a narrative to justify the shooting. They said in official reports that the teenager had tried to stab three officers, and that he had tried to get up from the ground as 16 shots were being fired into him.

The only hitch? Dashcam video footage of the encounter contradicted their account.

Patricia Brown Holmes, a special prosecutor trying the three officers on charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice, told a judge last week: “Instead of serving and protecting all citizens of Chicago, the defendants tried to protect only one — Jason Van Dyke,” the police officer who was convicted this fall of second-degree murder in the shooting.

On trial along with the officers is the “code of silence” that police officers across the country have been accused of operating under. In Chicago, the issue has been around for decades, bubbling up in recent years in cases involving a drunk-driving officer, an off-duty officer’s beating of a bartender and a lawsuit by two police officers who said they faced retaliation after breaking the code.

“Every police officer has seen the code of silence in action,” said Lorenzo Davis, a former Chicago officer who rose through the ranks to commander over a career of more than two decades. He was later an investigator for an oversight agency of the police department, and was awarded $2.8 million by a jury this year after suing the city, saying he had been fired from the agency because he refused to change his findings concerning police shootings that he deemed unjustified.

By Mr. Davis’s description, the code of silence can be subtle. An officer, even one who was close by, may say that he didn’t see what happened at a crucial moment. And the penalties can be frightening: colleagues may not arrive as quickly to help an officer in danger who is considered a snitch.

“The code of silence works a lot like a family situation,” Mr. Davis said. “You cannot tell on your family members. You just know that. No one has to tell you that. If you have a partner, you’re going to back up your partner.”

The president of the police union in Chicago, Kevin Graham, said through a spokesman that no such code of silence exists, calling the claim nonsense. “How the special prosecutor can construe a ‘code of silence’ theory defies belief,” Mr. Graham said after the charges against the three officers were announced.

And Eddie Johnson, the superintendent of the Chicago Police and a 30-year veteran of the force, said this year — in a sworn deposition related to a separate police shooting lawsuit — that he was unaware of any such code. Through a spokesman, Superintendent Johnson declined to elaborate on the matter this week, citing limits on speaking with reporters that were set by the judge in the trial of the three officers.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel has acknowledged the existence of a code. In late 2015, in the days after Chicagoans first saw damning video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald — video that the city had fought to keep out of public view — the mayor called for major changes in policing in a speech at City Hall. Facing demands for his resignation, Mr. Emanuel condemned what he said was sometimes called a “code of silence” or “a thin blue line.”

“It is the tendency to ignore, it is a tendency to deny, it is a tendency in some cases to cover up the bad actions of a colleague or colleagues,” Mr. Emanuel said in the emotional speech.

Mr. Emanuel’s remarks joined a series of disclosures, court findings and report conclusions in recent years that have drawn attention to a code of silence in Chicago, and, some say, have set off a gradual process of dismantling it.

In 2012, a federal jury awarded $850,000 to Karolina Obrycka, a bartender who was beaten by an off-duty Chicago police officer, Anthony Abbate, in an incident that was caught on security video. Ms. Obrycka asserted in her lawsuit that a broad code of silence in Chicago had emboldened Mr. Abbate’s behavior.

The city reached a $2 million settlement in 2016 with two officers — Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria — who said they experienced retaliation after exposing a fellow officer who was accused of shaking down drug dealers and of framing people who would not go along with other crimes.

And in 2017, the Department of Justice issued a scathing report on the Chicago police that found, in part, that a code of silence was getting in the way of holding officers accountable for misconduct.

For all the attention, though, the attitude that officers back one another up has yet to change, according to Terry Ekl, a lawyer who represented Ms. Obrycka in her suit. “The fact of the matter is that a code of silence exists,” he said. “As long as you and I are alive, it’s going to be there. It would take the leadership at the top stating that we’re not going to tolerate this any longer, and if you do this, you’ll be fired.”


In the case playing out now in a Chicago courtroom, the three officers — David March, Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney — have denied that they covered up for the officer who shot Laquan McDonald and tried to make the shooting appear justified.

Mr. March, who has resigned from the department, was the detective assigned to investigate the shooting. James McKay, a lawyer for Mr. March, told Cook County Associate Judge Domenica Stephenson that Mr. March merely carried out his duties. “He wrote down what the witnesses told him,” Mr. McKay said, adding that Mr. March was not assigned to be a “judge and jury” of what the officers reported had happened.

Mr. Walsh has also resigned from the department. He was the partner of Mr. Van Dyke, the officer who fired all the shots, on the night of the shooting. Mr. Walsh’s lawyer, Todd Pugh, said Mr. Walsh had only worked with Mr. Van Dyke once before, suggesting that his client had little reason to cover up for Mr. Van Dyke. If the video footage of the shooting conflicted with the way Mr. Walsh had described the events in reports, it was a matter of different perceptions of the same information based on one’s viewpoint, Mr. Pugh said.

Mr. Gaffney was one of the officers who first confronted Laquan McDonald on the evening of the shooting, after police got a report of a man breaking into trucks on the city’s Southwest Side. Mr. Gaffney and other officers had followed the teenager, who was carrying a knife and ignoring orders to stop, for several blocks. William Fahy, Mr. Gaffney’s lawyer, told the judge that Mr. Gaffney had showed appropriate restraint on the night of the shooting, but was now being charged because the authorities “disagree with the report that he wrote.” Mr. Fahy described the notion of a conspiracy among the officers to protect Mr. Van Dyke as “complete and utter nonsense.”

For some, the case has raised another question: Why are only three officers on trial?

Nine officers were at the scene when Officer Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald, and police officials moved to fire seven officers who they said gave questionable accounts of the shooting. Grand jurors indicted three officers but declined to indict any others.

“You have to wonder, where is the brass in all this — where are the top bosses?” said Ms. Spalding, one of the officers who sued and received a settlement from the city in 2016.

Ms. Spalding described the trial now underway as a “puppet show for the public,” to create the appearance that someone was being held accountable for false accounts after Laquan McDonald’s death. “You’re putting a couple officers on trial,” she said. “But don’t think for one minute that everyone didn’t know.”

Monica Davey, The New York Times, “Police ‘Code of Silence’ Is on Trial After Murder by Chicago Officer

Sixteen Shots and a Conviction


Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer who shot Laquan McDonald sixteen times, has been found guilty of murder. It’s a major victory for Chicago activists and the broader movement against police brutality.

Demonstrators protest on September 5 outside of the Leighton Criminal Courts Building as jury selection began in the murder trial for Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. Scott Olson / Getty

Listening to a jury spokeswoman on a local news livestream read out today’s verdict on Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke earlier today, the first shock came when she announced that Van Dyke was guilty of second-degree murder.Then came the next charges — sixteen of them, each for aggravated battery, read one by one; “guilty,” sixteen more times. This was a different kind of shock, borne less of surprise than constant repetition. Everyone listening was agonizingly reminded that this police officer had unloaded sixteen bullets into a black teenager named Laquan McDonald on a Chicago street. Sixteen. The number boggles the mind.

Police shootings are common in America. But police convictions for wrongdoing aren’t. Not Van Dyke, though — he’s going to prison, likely for a long time.

Police largely do as they please in America. They’re the racist guardians of an order of austerity, the most overtly violent enforcers of a system rife with economic violence. Stopping more cops like Van Dyke will also require taking on the larger system they’re a part of.

Sixteen Shots and a Cover-Up

The shooting took place on the night of October 20, 2014, on a busy street on Chicago’s southwest side. McDonald, who was seventeen, had allegedly broken into cars in the area when police were called on him. Several squad cars arrived. The released police dash cam footage shows McDonald walking down the middle of the street with a small knife in his hand. As he veered away from them, Van Dyke exited his cruiser.

Within six seconds, he fired sixteen shots into McDonald. From the moment Van Dyke fired those shots, the cover-up began.

First were his fellow officers on the scene, whose written police reports somehow vindicated Van Dyke’s actions despite clearly contradicting the dashcam footage from one of the police cars on the scene. Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn recently wrote that “these accounts [are] not just lies, but evidence of a culture of concealment.” Then the CPD’s top brass corroborated these officers’ accounts, despite clear evidence in the video to the contrary.

The rest of the city’s power brokers also came to Van Dyke’s defense. Despite his record of twenty excessive force complaints and a past $350,000 settlement for an alleged assault at a traffic stop, the mayor’s office engineered a $5 million settlement to keep the McDonald family quiet and avoid releasing the video during Emanuel’s 2015 reelection campaign.

The CPD and city hall promoted a narrative that McDonald lunged at Van Dyke with a knife. This was completely disproven by the footage. That footage, however, would not be released to the public for thirteen months.

The shooting came in the middle of Rahm Emanuel’s reelection campaign for mayor. Emanuel already stood accused as “Mayor 1 Percent,” overseeing privatization, disinvestment, and austerity everywhere from the city’s public schools to mental health clinics while happily courting the city’s elites. The narrative that he was punishing the city’s working-class people of color was widespread; a horrific video of a black teenager shot sixteen times would only cement that narrative.

Because of pressure from journalists and activists, the city was eventually forced to release the footage — more than a year later. Van Dyke was not charged with murder until just a few hours before the tape’s release.

A Conviction Delivered by a Movement

It’s impossible to believe that those charges and Van Dyke’s conviction today would have come without the nationwide movement against police brutality that has developed over the past few years. That pressure had also built in Chicago, where the police department has long operated with impunity and brutality.

Chicago police commander Jon Burge tortured black men for nearly two decades; the CPD has recently been accused of operating the local equivalent of a CIA black site in Homan Squaremassive CPD corruption cases are common; police killings of black people, like the 2012 shooting of twenty-year-old Rekia Boyd by off-duty officer Dante Servin, are common; the city spent $371 million on police misconduct cases from 2011 to 2016.

But all of those examples of police brutality and racism have sparked a formidable anti-police brutality movement in the city — a movement that was ready when the dashcam video was finally released in November 2015. Massive protests followed. Thousands of protesters marched through downtown and Millennium Park, and shut down the Magnificent Mile on Black Friday. Groups like the Black Youth Project (BYP) 100, Assata’s Daughters, and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression coupled their demand for a conviction with broader demands like disinvestment from law enforcement and prison abolition.

The McDonald cover-up also produced a historic investigation by the Justice Department (DOJ). Never before had the DOJ taken on such a large police department. The DOJ report found evidence of “widespread constitutional violations” and “unaddressed abusive and racially discriminatory conduct” that fall “heaviest on the predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods on the South and West sides of Chicago. ”

The city ultimately agreed to a consent decree, a legally binding remedy ordered by Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan. While consent decrees have drawbacks — typically accompanied by calls for more resources and funding to law enforcement — it still a symbolic concession that acknowledges the city’s long history of horrific police misconduct.

Beyond condemnations of Chicago police, Van Dyke’s shooting has caused massive upheaval in Chicago politics. The first city official to fall after the tape’s release was police chief Garry McCarthy, who Emanuel quickly sacked. (McCarthy objected to the firing and has announced his candidacy for mayor in 2019.) State’s attorney Anita Alvarez, whose office is tasked with prosecuting police misconduct, was trounced in her reelection bid by Kim Foxx, who ran as a criminal justice reformer and strong critic of Alvarez’s handling of the McDonald case.

And then Rahm Emanuel saw the writing on the wall. He was already vulnerable: he won reelection but was surprisingly forced into a runoff in 2015 (before the McDonald tape was released) because of the dogged efforts of a broad anti-austerity movement anchored by the Chicago Teachers Union. Not long after winning, it became clear that his office engaged in a cover-up of the McDonald tape, suppressing its release until after the election. It’s hard to imagine Emanuel would have survived another reelection bid in 2019.

The murder of Laquan McDonald was particularly brutal. Perhaps the conviction was rooted more in Van Dyke’s gratuitousness than the mere act of the killing itself. One wonders if Van Dyke might have avoided any consequences if he had only squeezed off a few rounds rather than his entire clip. But he was convicted today, and this conviction is a major victory. That victory has to translate into more convictions like this one.

But McDonald’s murder and cover-up were never just about police violence. His killing and acts of police brutality like it are also about the everyday economic violence visited upon poor and working-class people. Emanuel’s administration didn’t just cover up McDonald’s murder. It also closed fifty public schools and half a dozen public mental health clinics; privatized public goods and attacked public workers; disinvested from working-class neighborhoods and feted major corporations and hedge fund owners.

The story in Chicago isn’t so different from the rest of the country. In lieu of a welfare state, America has a police force that surveils, controls, and brutalizes poor and working-class people. Behind every police shooting in this country are a thousand acts of petty intimidation, racial profiling, illegally planted evidence, unnecessary and life-destroying prison sentences, and much worse. Police rarely face any consequences for these actions. In this case, for once, one did.

Maybe it was a one-off. Or maybe it indicates a willingness to finally hold other officers accountable for their crimes. Those crimes go far beyond the officers like Van Dyke who pull the trigger.


MICAH UETRICHT, RACHEL JOHNSON, October 5, 2018, Jacobin, “Sixteen Shots and a Conviction”,

Who’s on trial in Chicago


Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke, center, arrives for the first day of his murder trial on Sept. 17, 2018. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune)
September 17, 2018
Editorial Board Editorials reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board, as determined by the members of the board, the editorial page editor and the publisher.

Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke arrived at the Cook County courthouse at 26th and California on Monday to face the charges against him: murder, aggravated battery, official misconduct.

Certain facts of the case are not in dispute: Van Dyke pulling up in a marked SUV to the scene of a police encounter with 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on the night of Oct. 20, 2014. McDonald, armed with a knife, disobeying orders to stop walking. Van Dyke firing his weapon 16 times, killing McDonald.

The trial of Van Dyke will play out as several trials. We may learn more about that night. We’ll certainly learn more about the Chicago of 2018, a city on edge. Among those in the dock:

A police officer is on trial for first-degree murder. A jury will determine whether Van Dyke had the legal right to use deadly force against a teen with a knife. If those were the parameters, this would be a high-profile case because every police-involved shooting is a serious matter. Murder charges against an officer are rare. But there’s more to this case than the question of Van Dyke’s culpability: McDonald’s death laid bare a chronic failure of accountability within the Chicago Police Department that had eroded community trust.

CPD is also on trial. Not literally, but the alleged behavior of Van Dyke and other officers that night exposed the crisis of confidence in Chicago policing. Early accounts had McDonald lunging at officers, yet police dashboard cameras recorded him walking away from officers. For more than a year City Hall kept the recording from public viewing. The images of a white cop shooting an African-American teen 16 times, firing even as McDonald lay on the street, were so disturbing that the city agreed to a $5 million settlement before the McDonald family filed a lawsuit. Citing the shooting, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a Civil Rights Division investigation that excoriated CPD for a pattern of excessive force and an entrenched code of silence that shielded cops from accountability for wrongdoing.

City Hall and the mayor are on trial. Again not literally, but politically. Emanuel’s handling of the case and his management of CPD were set to become major issues in his re-election campaign, if he hadn’t decided two weeks ago against seeking a third term. In the aftermath of the shooting, Emanuel’s preference would have been to quarantine that night, to treat McDonald’s death as another isolated incident of alleged police misconduct. The video, when finally released, mooted that strategy. The case forced Emanuel and City Hall to accept Police Department reforms, including a new system of oversight, new training, new body cams for officers. This spirit of reform should get locked into a consent decree now under negotiation; it will give a federal judge a supervisory role. Van Dyke’s trial and those reforms will help determine Emanuel’s legacy.

The role of the judge. Judge Vincent Gaughan, presiding in the fifth-floor courtroom of the Leighton Criminal Court Building, is experienced, tough-minded and, incidentally, sometimes cantankerous with the media. News organizations challenged Gaughan in court over access to documents, but now the focus turns to his handling of an incendiary case and protecting Van Dyke’s right to a fair trial. If you want to witness his demanding approach, the trial is televised and livestreamed, while Tribune reporters are filing dispatches and live tweeting.

Chicagoans, too, are on trial. Prosecutors argue that Van Dyke used lethal force when it was not necessary; police could have arrested McDonald. Defense attorneys say the police officer feared for his life and took legal steps to end a violent confrontation. Interpretations of the video, the rights of an officer under Illinois law and other factors should lead jurors at the end of this case to render judgment. How will Chicagoans respond? The verdict won’t please everyone. It may bring joy and relief to some, disappointment or anger to others. We expect emotional responses and trust they’ll be peacefully expressed.

However this trial ends, the process of fixing the Chicago Police Department will continue. Chicago will be a better city for it.

September 17, 2018, Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune, “Who’s on trial in Chicago”,

How Rahm Emanuel Blew It on Police Reform

Rahm Emanuel stands behind Eddie T. Johnson of the Chicago Police Department as he addresses the news media. Teresa Crawford/AP

The Chicago trial of police officer Jason Van Dyke for killing Laquan McDonald is imminent. But even a guilty verdict can’t salvage Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s legacy on police reform.

On September 6, just days after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he will not run for a third term, his office released a statement reporting that the city finalized its consent decree—the city’s agreement with the federal government to institute a sweeping compendium of court-enforced reforms in its embattled police department.That same day, Chicago news outlets reported that Emanuel had acquiesced to a provision requiring officers to radio in to a dispatcher every time they pointed a gun at somebody. Until this week, Emanuel was against that and other critical reforms that would make police activities more transparent to the public. He welcomed this last reform only after announcing that he wasn’t running for reelection.

While history will note Emanuel as the mayor at the dawn of a new era of police reform in Chicago, he will likely get none of the glory. Rather, he’ll be known as the leader whose decisions in one particularly egregious case of police brutality brought Chicagoans’ relationship with city law enforcement to a breaking point. That case is the killing of the African American teenager Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in 2015. Emanuel’s unforced errors in handling that case devastated Chicago families and blemished his mayoral legacy. He failed to take his own advice by letting the serious crisis of police misconduct go to waste. The question is whether there’s anything he can do now to change that.

The growing movement for police reform

Emanuel had the opportunity to do something truly transformative about Chicago police corruption—a well-documented problem that festered for decades before he became mayor, often under the protection of City Hall. The passionate and determined Black Lives Matter movement was seeded and sprouted during Emanuel’s first term (2011 to 2015). Fueled by numerous shocking accounts of police killings of African Americans around the U.S. that were going unpunished, the BLM network made accountability for police violence its flagship issue.

By the time of the 2015 deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and Sandra Bland in Texas—both of whom died under questionable circumstances while in police custody—the BLM cause was ascendant. And nowhere did a collision between BLM and the police seem more inevitable at that point than in Chicago, where evidence of decades of police corruption and brutality concerning black and Latino civilians was surfacing, and it was beyond refutation.

This was the political climate that greeted Emanuel as he started his second term as mayor in mid-2015, and he could have gotten in front of the policing issue before a clash happened. Instead, just months into that term, he antagonized both sides. At an October 2015 White House gathering of law enforcement officials, Emanuel said Chicago police officers had gone “fetal”—that they were shrinking back in their public safety duties because of social media-driven backlash to police brutality, or out of fear they’d get caught on live-streaming services doing something shady. In that one statement, he scapegoated police reform activists and infantilized the police force.

What made Emanuel’s “fetal” comment worse was that he made it while sitting on damning video footage that implicated Chicago police officer Van Dyke in the shooting of Laquan McDonald in October 2014. Emanuel withheld the clip from public viewing for more than a year after the killing, citing pending investigations, but the few officials who did see it worried that its contents could jolt the public into possible riots. The video did not depict police in passive mode; instead, the dashboard camera footage showed Van Dyke firing his weapon on McDonald as he walked away from the officers. The only person left in a fetal position from that police encounter was McDonald, who died from the shooting.

The official narrative

Up until the release of the video, the official narrative was that Laquan McDonald lunged at Van Dyke with a knife. The city settled with McDonald’s family for $5 million just days after Emanuel was reelected in April of 2015. A clause in the agreement stipulated that they could not show the video to anyone until the investigation and any resulting trial or process was complete. It was only because of the relentless FOIA filings and lawsuits of journalist Brandon Smith that Emanuel was forced by courts to publicly air the footage. When the city finally released it, just before Thanksgiving that year, Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder. Until that point, he had been kept on the police payroll.


The argument that Van Dyke was an isolated “bad apple” cop on the force was undermined by data obtained by the Chicago-based media organization the Invisible Institute. Researchers there discovered through their own FOIA and lawsuit filings that tens of thousands of abuse complaints had been filed by Chicago residents since 2002, but the city only investigated a tiny percentage of them. An even smaller percentage of those complaints ended with disciplinary action. The Invisible Institute’s online Citizens Police Data Project maps where the city complaints were filed from, the kinds of complaints submitted, the officers named in those complaints, and how many complaints each officer received.

(Citizens Police Data Project/2015)

According to their findings, Van Dyke was the subject of 26 complaints of misconduct—20 involving excessive force. The first allegation against him, a personnel violation, happened not even a year after he joined the Chicago police force in 2001. It was information like this that Emanuel initially worked to keep cloaked from the public eye, just as he did with the McDonald footage, until courts made his administration come clean. University of Columbia law professor Bernard E. Harcourt flat-out called Emanuel’s handling of the McDonald case a “cover-up” in The New York Times.

“If you think about the sequence of events in the 13 months leading up to the release of the video, everything that happened was in support of that narrative,” said Jamie Kalven, executive director of the Invisible Institute. “Withholding the video, falsifying reports, officers commandeering and destroying a video [of the shooting] from Burger King [Ed. Note: the FBI disputes this], stonewalling the press endlessly and, ultimately, the $5 million settlement with the family of Laquan McDonald—all of that was in service of the official narrative and meant withholding information from the public. It’s what brought the Emanuel administration down essentially.”

Reform, on Emanuel’s terms

After the McDonald debacle, activists from Black Lives Matter and the Black Youth Project led protests around Chicago demanding that Emanuel’s resign. There were, in fact, many calls from both in and outside of Chicago, from activists and even elected officials for the mayor to step down. But Emanuel, who’s infamously hard-nosed, would not budge. Instead, he began taking other steps that would at least give the appearance that he was now serious about reforming the police.

He forced the resignation of the head of the police department, Garry McCarthy, in December of 2015, calling him a “distraction,” and declared that there was a culture of misconduct amongst the police force. Emanuel then assembled a task force to investigate that culture and to come up with recommendations for how to make the police department more accountable to the public. Around the same time, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it also would be investigating the Chicago police department for civil rights violations. Emanuel initially dismissed federal involvement as “misguided,” but later recanted and welcomed the Justice Department’s investigation after blowback from the public.That kind of reversal (also seen recently on the proposal to have police radio in when they aim their gun at people) could be considered the Emanuel doctrine on police reform: Reject measures that might reveal humiliating or incriminating information about the police, until publicly forced to accede. Which perhaps explains why by January 2016, just over half of Chicagoans surveyed by the Chicago Tribune said they weren’t confident that Emanuel could handle police problems. For African Americans and Latinos it was 61 percent.

Chicago’s police problem is also a race problem: The mayor’s task force finished its investigation in April of 2016, stating in its report that Chicago police “have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.” According to the report, nearly three-quarters of those shot or killed by police officers between 2008 and 2015 were black, compared to 15 percent for Latinos and 8 percent for white victims. African Americans only comprise a third of Chicago’s population. Not only that, but in 2013, while Chicago police were far more likely to stop and search African Americans and Latinos than whites, police were far less likely to find drugs or weapons on people of color during those searches.

(Chicago Police Accountability Task Force)

The Justice Department’s investigative report, released in January 2017, found many of the same racial disparities, but also noted that it was the city’s own policies that allowed them to fester—notably by not taking citizen complaints about the police seriously. Federal investigators reported that the city had received over 30,000 complaints of police misconduct during the time Emanuel was mayor, but 98 percent of them resulted in no discipline for police officers. Reads the Justice Department’s report:

The City does not investigate the majority of cases it is required by law to investigate. … Some of these investigations are ignored based on procedural hurdles in City agreements with its unions, but some are unilateral decisions by the accountability agencies to reduce caseloads and manage resources. …Regardless of the reasons, this failure to fully investigate almost half of all police misconduct cases seriously undermines accountability. These are all lost opportunities to identify misconduct, training deficiencies, and problematic trends, and to hold officers and CPD accountable when misconduct occurs.

Once again, Emanuel initially tried to wiggle out of compliance: This time it was with the federal court-enforced consent decree process that typically follows U.S. Justice Department investigations. Emanuel attempted to secure a simpler reform deal with the Trump administration, but then agreed to the federal court oversight of the police months later, in yet another example of him being forced into consent.

“In the aftermath of the McDonald video the city was in a state of crisis, and there was a real opportunity for him to be a transcendent leader, but he never took advantage of the moment,” said Lori Lightfoot, the chair of Emanuel’s police accountability task force, who is currently running for mayor. “But Emanuel never truly understood the nuances of local policing. He’s looked at them through a purely political and transactional lens and hasn’t stepped back to understand that public safety is a sacred trust.”

“This standard of intent is untenable”

While the city wraps up its consent decree work, Lightfoot is concerned that the language isn’t strong enough on some of the more physical ways that police have been known to interact with civilians. Black Lives Matter shares these concerns, saying in a public statement that it “falls far short of what’s required in order to end the reign of lawlessness and brutality that we’ve endured under this Police Department.”

Lightfoot notes that the consent decree addresses foot pursuits—when and how police may run after suspects—by saying that the independent monitor should wait until 2021, after enough data is collected, to decide whether to adopt a formal policy on that.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department report flagged the Chicago police department’s foot chase record as “reckless” and asked why it had a policy for vehicle pursuits, but not for foot pursuits. The DOJ report lists several instances of Chicago police officers chasing people “without a basis for believing the person had committed a serious crime,” and then injuring or shooting unarmed suspects while in pursuit. DOJ’s recommendation on this:

Develop, train and implement a foot pursuit policy that makes clear that foot pursuits are dangerous and that sets forth guidelines for foot pursuits that balance the objective of apprehending the suspect with the risk of potential injury to the officer, the public, and the suspect. The policy also should address unsafe foot pursuit tactics to ensure the risks of foot pursuits are not increased;

Lightfoot also is worried that the consent decree only prohibits police from putting suspects in chokeholds “if there is an intent to reduce the intake of air or put pressure on a person’s airway.” (This suggests a question: What other function is there for choking someone?)

“This standard of intent is untenable,” said Lightfoot. “Under this policy, an officer would simply deny an intention to cause harm after using a chokehold. The Chicago police department must be prohibited from using chokeholds, full stop.”

“Proactive, affirmative transparency”

The evidence of Chicago police violence against civilians, and minorities in particular, keeps expanding. The Invisible Institute recently updated andrelaunched its Citizens Police Data Project website with more comprehensive data on police complaints now dating back to 1967. Among their latest findings: Racial disparities in police use of force have increased over the last decade, even though Chicago’s black population has decreased. In fact, they found that of the five police districts with the highest rates of excessive force against African Americans, four of them are in predominantly white districts.

For Invisible Institute’s executive director Kalven, one of the best things he believes the Emanuel administration can do to improve police-community relations is to make all police misconduct files instantly available to the public. It took a 2014 court ruling, from Kalven’s lawsuit against the city, for these files to be formally declared public information. And yet civilians still have to go through the FOIA process to access it. The city could put all of these files on its website tomorrow. That’s another major reform missing from the consent decree, but Kalven is still pushing the city to do this.

“Just put all of the disciplinary information out there so that we as citizens can monitor the [consent decree] process and really be meaningfully engaged,” said Kalven. “That would be such an expression of good faith, to institute that kind of proactive, affirmative transparency.”What’s also stopping that from happening is the police union, which has been fighting to block transparency. In fact, the union took the city to court for the right to destroy police misconduct files older than five years. The union lost, but it jammed up the process to make those files public for nearly two years. If there has been a positive spot in Emanuel’s police reform agenda it’s his willingness to stand up to the union. The mayor, in fact, worked “shoulder-to-shoulder” with police reform activists, said Kalven, in court against the union’s request to destroy older police misconduct files.

Meanwhile, current police union president Kevin Graham told CityLab that he and Emanuel have not spoken since Graham became the leader of the local Fraternal Order of Police union chapter last year. Its prior president, Dean Angelo, did engage with Emanuel after the McDonald killing and for the Justice Department probe. Which may be why the union members voted him out. Graham, his successor, is reported to take a far harder line on police reforms than Angelo did.

“The only way this city will move forward is if we elect someone who takes seriously the rule of law,” said Graham. “Unfortunately, here in Chicago, we have bowed to various groups who say that all of the problems are with the police.”

Graham singled out the ACLU as one of those groups. “The ACLU is not a friend of the people of Chicago, because they have caused the increase in crime, in part,” he said. Although he did not mention them by name, Black Lives Matter and Black Youth Project 100 have also been instrumental in pressuring Emanuel to adopt certain police reforms, and some of their leaders were included in the consent decree process. They also successfully mobilized voters to remove former Cook County prosecutor Anita Alvarez from her office in 2016, for taking more than a year to charge police officer Van Dyke after he killed McDonald.<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Note to all other candidates in the running to become chicago’s Next mayor: it will not be easier for you, we still have an agenda that is pro-community/public schools/quality jobs and anti-divestment/policing/corruption. <a href=”;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ByeRahm</a></p>&mdash; Charlene Carruthers (@CharleneCac) <a href=””>September 4, 2018</a></blockquote>

Van Dyke’s court trial began this week, and it could expose other ways that the Emanuel administration hushed the facts and initially protected McDonald from criminal punishment. With Emanuel no longer facing reelection, Kalven said he can use this as an opportunity to take a much bolder stance on police reform, regardless of the outcome of the Van Dyke trial.

“There are few incidents of police violence that we know as much about as we do the Laquan McDonald killing, and the subsequent institutional response,” said Kalven. “And yet the core narrative is still unstable. The trial is a critical part of that landscape, but it would be a mistake to read a guilty verdict as a demonstration that we are somehow healed as a society, or that we’ve addressed the underlying problems.”

Brentin Mock, ,, “How Rahm Emanuel Blew It on Police Reform”,


Bad Chicago Cops Spread Their Misconduct Like a Disease

Rob Arthur, August 16 2018, 9:03 a.m

The Chicago Police Files

Part 5

Because Chicago’s police complaints can list multiple officers at once, it’s possible to build a giant social network of police interactions.

From 1972 to 1991, a Chicago detective named Jon Burge led a group of police officers in torturing confessions out of suspects. They called themselves the “Midnight Crew,” and their behavior eventually resulted in the jailing of Burge and the creation of a reparations council to pay the victims. More recently, the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force was found to have planted evidence, assaulted innocent citizens, and committed overtime fraud.

Many of the most egregious examples of police misconduct arise from tightly knit groups of officers like these. That’s no accident. Recently released data from the Chicago police department shows that misconduct spreads from officer to officer like an infectious disease. And the same behavior that leads cops to violate the rules often predicts whether they will participate in a shooting.

In 2009, the Invisible Institute sued the city of Chicago to reveal in-depth information on the complaint histories of selected Chicago police officers. After a drawn-out legal battle, the Invisible Institute prevailed and acquired the complaint histories of all officers since 1988. They then processed, standardized, and augmented that data with information on police shootings, uses of force, and a complete duty roster of all officers. In total, the data covers more than 30,000 officers and almost 23,000 complaints between 2000 and 2018.

Because complaints can list multiple officers at once, it’s possible to determine that more than one cop was present at the scene at the same time. Complaints listing multiple officers link those cops together, and by assembling thousands of officers across tens of thousands of complaints, it’s possible to build a giant social network of police interactions.


Evolving social network of Officer Raymond Piwnicki.

Video: Invisible Institute/The Intercept

The illustration above visualizes such a social network. Dots represent officers, linked by lines of complaints. Most officers register few complaints and sit on the outside of the network. But a small portion of officers at the center of network behave differently than those on the outside.About 1,300 of Chicago’s cops fall into clusters of linked police officers who together have been the subject of at least 100 citizen complaints against them. The list of police within this group reads like a Who’s Who of Chicago police misconduct: From Jerome Finnigan, who led a corrupt unit of cops and plotted to kill a fellow officer, to Raymond Piwnicki, who harassed black citizens using racist language. Officers within this group show not only higher rates of complaints, but also participate in more uses of force and even more shootings. On its own, such a pattern could simply mean that these particular officers are more likely to be street cops or assigned to high-crime divisions. But these central officers are also more than five times as likely to figure in an incident that results in a civil payout by the city for misconduct, according to data on lawsuits involving police officers gathered by the Chicago Reporter.

Within police departments, it’s often well-known that some cops break the rules. In the Chicago Police Department, it was an “open secret” that Burge and his crew extracted confessions using illegal means. Far less serious conduct, such as a reputation for pushing the boundaries, can also get around. Seth Stoughton, a former police officer turned college professor at the University of South Carolina, said “I learned that some, maybe one or two officers when I was [on the force], tended to do things right at the edge of what is acceptable procedure.”

Citizens Police Data ProjectLearn moreCitizens Police Data Project

Reputations like Stoughton’s colleagues in turn attract or repel other officers. For example, complaints tend to list officers with more similar use of force rates than if you were to pick officers at random from the department. That could be a result of cops seeking out assignments with others like them. Cops at the center of the Chicago network of 1,300 problem officers were about six times more likely than the department at large to work in one of Chicago’s gang units. Other cops who transferred to those units showed more use of force and greater total civil suit payouts than randomly selected officers. “It’s like magnets. And good officers don’t want to work with [bad ones], because they’ll get in trouble themselves,” said Sam Walker, a professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska and consultant to many police departments. Because high-complaint officers attract like-minded colleagues,  they tend to be surrounded within the network by others like them.

Officers prone to misconduct do more than draw in others like them. The data shows that they also may be teaching their colleagues bad habits. Using the Invisible Institute’s data I picked out all the more than 12,000 officers with low complaint rates before 2008 (the year the Independent Police Review Authority, a new police oversight board, became operational). Then I split those cops into two segments: the 863 who had been listed on a complaint with officers at the center of the network, and 12,815 who hadn’t. The officers who had been exposed to the contagious, misconduct-prone cops at the center of complaint networks went on to show complaint rates nine times higher over the next ten years than those who hadn’t.

Their behavior often escalates beyond complaints to more serious violence. The same cops who are exposed to other high complaint officers go on to be listed on four times as many uses of force per year in the next few years. They also commit shootings at rates more than five times higher than their colleagues who weren’t exposed to misbehaving officers.

Stoughton credited part of the infectious quality of misbehaving officers to the process of training young cops. While officers learn the rules of policing at the academy, the probationary period provides hands-on training in the first few months on the job. In that time, many of the procedures they were told to follow in the academy get discarded. “On their first day, every cop hears some variation of ‘Forget everything you learned at the academy’,” Stoughton said.

Bob Verry, a retired police chief and current internal affairs investigator in New Jersey, likened the process of learning misconduct to the “broken windows” theory of policing, in which small violations escalate to larger and larger crimes. “Officers start out with minor things — forgetting their tie clip — and then that becomes forgetting to shine their shoes. … They get away with one punch during an arrest and it just goes on from there,” Verry said.

The data is rich with examples of young officers whose trajectories bent toward misconduct after exposure to bad influences. One rookie cop joined the department in 2001 and was assigned to the 9th police district, on the South Side of the city, after training. In his first three years, he received two complaints; both times, he was exonerated.

In 2004, just after completing his third year on the job, that officer was accused of using excessive force. He was listed on the complaint with four other officers, two of whom had multiple other complaints to their names. From that point on, his complaint rate skyrocketed. Citizens filed several allegations against him over the next five years. His use-of-force rate increased as well, from less than two per year to six in 2014. That officer was Jason Van Dyke, who shot Laquan McDonald that same year and is now on trial for McDonald’s murder.

In theory, patterns of bad behavior like Van Dyke’s should be detected and corrected by supervisors. Complaints by civilians and other officers should trigger official investigations, and officers beset by numerous allegations should be sent to counseling or suspended. But the departmental investigation process is dysfunctional, and the vast majority of civilian complaints do not yield any discipline for the accused officer. When complaints are filed by other cops, discipline is much more likely, but according to data obtained by the Invisible Institute, officers at the center of the network are less likely than others to have complaints filed against them by other cops. The “blue wall of silence,” the tendency among cops to protect their own, appears to safeguard these officers more than others.

“We know that officers who are more in tune [with] or endorse the code of silence … are also more likely to use force, and less likely to use communication in interactions with the public,” said Scott Wolfe, a criminologist at Michigan State University, referring to published research. “They’re more likely to pull a gun and more likely to shoot a gun.”

Using the same data from the Invisible Institute, researchers at the University of Southern California, Yale, Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found in a working paper that networks of complaints and shootings can be used to tell that police violence is contagious. “Violence might spread when officers learn from each other scripts for trying to manage risky civilian encounters or encounters in which they lose control,” said Daria Roithmayr, a professor of law at USC and an author of the paper.

Previous results from two of the researchers had shown that violence behaved in a contagious fashion among citizens of Chicago. Without help or endorsement from those researchers, the Chicago police department used these results as the basis to build an algorithm that would predict which citizens were at higher risk of being involved in a shooting, and then contacted them to try to prevent that violence. The researchers believe that using the contagious nature of violence to target individuals — cops or citizens — is “extremely hard” and “just wouldn’t work well in practice.”

“Once we understand more about contagion, there might be implications for policymakers in terms of how police tasks are assigned or how police units are structured,” Roithmayr said. She cautioned, “There is much more to understand about contagion before we can begin meaningful policy prescription.” Currently, police departments do not formally take an officer’s social history into account when judging whether to reassign an officer or otherwise prevent them from engaging in misconduct. But Verry noted that internal affairs investigators typically look into the other officers on the scene of a complaint.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan recently filed the draft of a legally binding document that would lay out a series of reforms for the Chicago Police Department to implement in the next few years. In this draft consent decree, one of the required improvements is that the department create a system to pick up on bad behavior before it becomes more serious. A required element for that system is the capacity “to identify group- and unit-level patterns of activity.” The special attention paid to identifying misconduct among cliques within the department suggests that the architects of the consent decree may be aware of the social nature of misbehavior exhibited by groups like Burge’s Midnight Crew.

Top photo: Police officer Jason Van Dyke arrives at the Leighton Criminal Court building in Chicago on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015. He plead not guilty in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald.

Rob Arthur, August 16 2018,, “Bad Chicago Cops Spread Their Misconduct Like a Disease”,

Protests erupt after Chicago police fatally shoot man

CHICAGO — An angry crowd shouted and threw bottles at Chicago police after an officer fatally shot a man on the city’s South Side Saturday, prompting the arrest of at least four demonstrators.

Chicago police patrol chief Fred Waller told a news conference that the man was shot in the South Shore neighborhood after police officers on foot tried to question him because “the bulge around his waistband” suggested he was armed. The man became combative and eventually broke free from the officers, Waller said.

“They thought he appeared to be reaching for a weapon, which he did have a weapon on him, and the officers tragically shot him,” he said.

The unidentified man was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead. Waller said police believe the man did not have a concealed carry permit for the semi-automatic weapon. He also had magazines of ammunition, Waller said.

Immediately after the shooting, an angry crowd gathered and began jostling with police, who had cordoned off the area. Waller said protesters threw bottles and jumped on top of a squad car. Police then moved in wielding batons to stop them.

“It got a little bit out of hand. Several arrests were made,” Waller said.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted that four protesters were arrested.

Several police officers were slightly injured in the scuffles, Waller said, and some squad cars were damaged.

After nightfall, protesters continued to mill around the neighborhood with police occasionally chasing them away. Video showed one protester thrown to the ground surrounded by police holding batons.

Chicago has a troubled history of police shootings. The city erupted in protest in 2015 after the release of a video showing white police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014. Van Dyke was charged with murder. McDonald’s death led to the ouster of the police chief and a series of reforms designed to prevent future police abuses and to hold officers accountable.

Associated Press, July 15, 2018, NY Post, “Protests erupt after Chicago police fatally shoot man”,

Police Misconduct Costs Chicago So Much The City Has To Borrow To Pay For It

Oct 3, 2017

Police misconduct can do a lot of damage — inciting fear or upsetting the public trust that officers need to do their jobs, especially when their actions affect primarily people of color.

On this week’s episode of the Criminal Injustice podcast, host and University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris talks to Chicago Reporter data journalist Jonah Newman, whose reporting shows those incidents can also cost taxpayers millions in legal payouts.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

DAVID HARRIS: You and your colleagues at the Chicago Reporter looked at all of the police misconduct cases settled by the city and verdicts in court against the city from 2011 through 2016. How many cases, and what did they cost to settle?

JONAH NEWMAN: The city paid out more than 940 lawsuits over the past six years costing a total of $280 million in the settlements and judgments and another $91 million in fees and costs to outside lawyers who they paid to defend officers and the city in some of these cases. So obviously that’s $370 million total over the last six years.

HARRIS: Police misconduct is a very broad term. What were these police officers doing that warranted a settlement for money?

NEWMAN: The majority of cases allege either false arrest or excessive force or both. A lot of these stem from kind of day-to-day interactions between police officers and citizens. Often they start with traffic stops or investigatory stops on the street, right? Kind of what we would call stop-and-frisk, and end in the use of some kind of excessive force or someone being arrested for something that they claim they didn’t do. A disproportionate number of these cases stem from incidents in communities of color — that’s one clear trend. Another trend we found [is that] in about one-quarter of the cases that allege excessive force, the plaintiff was also charged with either resisting arrest or assault of a police officer, which some civil rights lawyers said was sort of an effort by the police to cover up their use of excessive force.

HARRIS: Chicago is a big city with a big budget. Give us some sense of what a year’s worth of these settlements would mean for Chicago. What do they have to give up, or what could they pay for instead?

NEWMAN: They’ve spent about $47 million on average over the last six years. Last year, they spent $52 million on misconduct lawsuits and outside counsel. That money could’ve covered the cost of the city’s efforts to engage at-risk youth through afterschool programming, through summer jobs, through mentorship. Obviously the city is grappling with an increase in gun violence over the last couple of years, and the mayor has really touted these programs as ways to help stem some of that violence. And the money spent on police lawsuits last year could have doubled the city’s investment in that program.

HARRIS: So they’re paying an average of $47 million a year, and they’re borrowing to cover the cost of it. Your newspaper is tracking those patterns over time. Are police looking at those patterns? Is the city looking at that, and what are they doing about it?

NEWMAN: The city has not been looking at these patterns, despite the fact that it’s now been brought to their attention several times by first the police accountability task force that the mayor set up in the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting and the aftermath. And then last year, both our reporting and a report from the city’s inspector general saying that the city should be looking at the trends and patterns in these lawsuits. And then again in January of this year, when the U.S. Justice Department finished their pattern of practice investigation of police misconduct within the city. [They cited] our reporting and actually said the city should be taking a closer look at these lawsuits. They’re still not doing it, as far as I can tell.

Oct 3, 2017, “Police Misconduct Costs Chicago So Much The City Has To Borrow To Pay For It”,

City wavering on keeping video secret in another fatal Chicago police shooting

Jason Meisner and Matthew Walberg Chicago Tribune
Family of another black man slain by Chicago police suing for dash-cam video of shooting

A week after the shocking video of a Chicago police officer shooting teen Laquan McDonald went viral, city officials appear to be wavering in their fight to keep secret another dash-cam video depicting a police shooting that lawyers for the victim say went down in strikingly similar fashion.

In response to questions from the Tribune, the city’s Law Department said Tuesday afternoon that the city was “currently re-examining” when the video of Ronald Johnson III’s shooting should be released even though the incident was still under investigation by the Independent Police Review Authority, which looks into allegations of police misconduct.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez revealed for the first time Tuesday that the office is investigating possible criminal charges against the veteran officer who fatally shot Johnson in the back during a foot chase just eight days before McDonald’s killing.

At a news conference Tuesday, lawyers for Johnson’s family said his shooting was eerily similar to McDonald’s. The video shows an officer opening fire within seconds of arriving at the scene as Johnson was moving away from police, they said. And as with the video in the McDonald case, the audio that is supposed to accompany the footage is missing.

“This is a horrible thing. They continue to keep these things quiet,” attorney Michael Oppenheimer said of the video that he has seen as part of an ongoing federal lawsuit against the city filed by Johnson’s mother. “And how can anybody have confidence in the system when they keep happening this way?”

One major distinction between the two cases is a dispute in Johnson’s shooting over whether he was armed. Police, who described Johnson as a known gang member, said they recovered a gun at the scene, but Oppenheimer contended police planted the weapon after shooting an unarmed Johnson.

Reached by phone Tuesday night, Oppenheimer said he was surprised to learn from the Tribune that Alvarez’s office disclosed the criminal probe of Johnson’s shooting. He said as far as he knew none of the civilian or police witnesses in the case had been contacted by prosecutors.

In addition, George Hernandez, who was identified in the lawsuit as the officer who shot Johnson, freely answered questions at a sworn deposition just last week without a criminal defense attorney present, according to Oppenheimer.

“Every indication that I have is that Alvarez has done absolutely nothing so far, so as usual she’s late to the party,” Oppenheimer said.

The details about Johnson’s killing have emerged amid continued fallout over the handling of the McDonald case. After the dash-cam video of McDonald being shot 16 times was made public last week, daily protests have captured national attention and put increasing political pressure on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to make wholesale changes to the Police Department.

As Oppenheimer was discussing his case with reporters Tuesday morning, news broke that police Superintendent Garry McCarthy had been fired by Emanuel. Later in the day, Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked the U.S. Justice Department to launch a civil rights investigation of Chicago police tactics.

Just as it had in McDonald’s shooting, the city fought tooth and nail for more than a year to keep the video in the Johnson lawsuit from being made public, arguing in court filings as recently as Oct. 30 that releasing it could inflame the public and jeopardize the officer’s right to a fair trial if he was charged later, court records show.

The video was first turned over as part of a wrongful death lawsuit filed a few weeks after the shooting by Johnson’s mother, Dorothy Holmes. With that case pending, U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang granted a request by the city for a protective order barring the release of the footage and other sensitive information, records show.

Meanwhile, in a separate lawsuit, Holmes’ attorneys have asked a Cook County judge to order the dash-cam video released under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Oppenheimer said he hoped that the recent ruling by Chancery Judge Franklin Valderrama ordering the release of the McDonald video — also over the city’s objections — would weigh in his favor.

In its statement, the Law Department said that in light of Valderrama’s ruling, the city is “currently re-examining when (the Johnson) video should be released.” The department also noted that there were “stark differences from the Laquan McDonald case, including a recovered gun.”

Alvarez is not opposing the release of the dash-cam video in Johnson’s case, spokeswoman Sally Daly said.

On the night he was killed in October 2014, Johnson, 25, was riding in a car with friends when it was pulled over by police at 53rd Street and King Drive. Johnson tried to run and was pursued by officers on foot, none of whom opened fire, Oppenheimer said.

During the chase, Hernandez, at the time a tactical officer in the Wentworth police district, pulled up in an unmarked squad car and jumped out with his gun drawn. Within two seconds, he fired five times at Johnson as he was still running away, striking him in the back of the knee and again in the back shoulder, Oppenheimer said.

Autopsy results obtained by the Tribune on Tuesday show the fatal shot traveled through Johnson’s shoulder, severed his jugular vein and exited his eye socket.

Oppenheimer said the squad car that recorded the video began to move shortly after Johnson collapsed in the parkway, so the officers’ actions in the immediate aftermath were not recorded. He said evidence he has uncovered through the lawsuit shows that at some point soon after the shooting, detectives investigating at the scene began communicating with dispatchers on their private cellphones in violation of department protocol.

Chicago police have said that Johnson fit the description of an offender from an earlier call of shots fired and resisted arrest when police tried to detain him. After pulling away from one officer, Johnson pointed a gun at police who were in pursuit, leading Hernandez to open fire, police said.

At the scene that night, Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden said Hernandez fired in fear for his life and that of his fellow officers. A gun was recovered from Johnson’s right hand, according to police.

But Oppenheimer said the dash-cam footage from another squad car clearly showed Johnson running with nothing in his hands. The video also proves he never turned around before the shots knocked him down, Oppenheimer said.

“The Police Department planted that gun because there was no way that anything would have stayed in Ronald Johnson’s hand after he was shot,” Oppenheimer said.

Hernandez, who joined the department in March 2006, has been on paid desk duty since the incident, records show.

Holmes, Johnson’s mother, told reporters Tuesday that she wants the video of her son’s shooting released because she believes it will clear his name and show that the police “lied on TV” when they said he had a gun. Her son, affectionately known as “Ronnieman” in his South Side neighborhood, had no serious criminal record and left behind five children, she said.

“Even on your saddest days, he’d put a smile on your face,” Holmes said with tears in her eyes. “He didn’t deserve to be murdered.”

Cook County court records show Johnson had several run-ins with police over the years but no felony convictions on his record. In 2008, he was charged with assaulting a police officer, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count and received court supervision. In 2011 he was arrested after he allegedly threatened to shoot his girlfriend. Records show he later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic battery.

Oppenheimer said he didn’t know why Johnson would have run from the police on Oct. 12, 2014.

“What I do know is that young black men sometimes run from the police because they are afraid,” he said. “And in this case, it turned out to be a prophecy because the police killed him.”

Jason Meisner and Matthew Walberg, December 2, 2015, Chicago Tribune,  “City wavering on keeping video secret in another fatal Chicago police shooting”,