After multiple lengthy court and arbitration battles, the Chicago Police Department released documents showing over 125,000 police misconduct complaints against over 25,000 Chicago police officers between 1967, the first year the department started tracking the information, and 2014.
According to the Chicago Tribune, which, along with the Chicago Sun-Times and the Invisible Institute, a local journalism nonprofit, filed Freedom of Information Act requests for the information in 2014 and only just now received it, seven police officers during that period of time racked up over 100 complaints, with an additional 62 officers receiving at least 70 complaints.
The complaints can range from a superior officer reporting a subordinate for something as minor as a uniform infraction to an officer brutally shooting an unarmed black teenager 16 times (all police use of force incidents automatically generate complaints).
About half of the officers in the dataset released by the city have five or fewer complaints, suggesting that "problem officers" are responsible for the brunt of police misconduct. "Most Chicago police officers don't get more than five (complaints) in an entire career," civil rights lawyer Jon Loevy told the Tribune. "If the Police Department is truly interested in identifying the problem officers, then the clusters of complaints seem to be the obvious place to look."
The city had agreed to release the information in 2014, but soon before they were set to, the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents some 80 percent of the city's police force, sued the city and was granted an injunction on the release of the files, on the grounds that a provision in the police contract requires the destruction of complaint files after five to seven years, depending on the severity of the complaint. The city argued that several court orders given in the 1990s prevented the city from destroying the files, and as such, are available to the public under FOIA.
The Laquan McDonald shooting and cover-up were instrumental in securing the release of these files. In court-ordered arbitration, two arbitrators decided the city had to destroy the majority of the files before reversing their decisions in the wake of public outcry and mass protests throughout the city.
Sam Stecklow is the Weekend Editor for Fusion.