Bad record keeping allows police misconduct to go unpunished
ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune’s groundbreaking report shows how disciplinary actions for Chicago police officers fall through the cracks.
A joint investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois has revealed the Chicago Police Department’s disciplinary procedures and shoddy record keeping are allowing instances of police misconduct to go unpunished for years, if they are punished at all.
The investigation showed multiple cases of documented police misconduct where the discipline for offending police officers was routinely watered down, delayed, shelved and eventually forgotten about.
In one case, Walter and Brandon Whitehead, a father and son, were held at gunpoint by William Levigne, an off-duty CPD officer, for allegedly cutting off Levigne’s vehicle in traffic in October 2006.
ProPublica Illinois and the Tribune obtained audio of both Brandon’s 911 call as well as 911 calls made by Levigne. In Brandon’s call to 911, Levigne can be heard using profanity and ordering the Whiteheads to get out of their car. In Levigne’s 911 call, he claims the Whiteheads tried to kill him and demanded assistance from “a brother in blue,” according to the report.
The Whiteheads filed a complaint in 2006, and disciplinary officials decided that Levigne had indeed been in the wrong and recommended a 60-day suspension. The Whiteheads settled a civil suit with the city for $78,700.
Levigne’s punishment, however, was watered down and delayed. In 2014, Levigne filed a grievance with the Fraternal Order of Police, or FOP, the police officers union. Levigne ended up getting a five-day suspension, and the city agreed to expunge from Levigne’s record the finding that Levigne had lied, according to the report. But because officials in charge of finalizing the suspension never got the correct paperwork, the discipline never ended up on his record and his suspension wasn’t enforced. He even got a promotion to detective in 2014. And Levigne didn’t serve his suspension until November 2017, after reporters started asking questions.
And Levigne’s wasn’t the only case.
The investigation lists more examples where the disciplinary procedures failed to discipline officers. Such cases include: a man whose house was barged into in 2011 by CPD officers without a warrant in pursuit of an unrelated suspect; a woman who had a gun waved at her by a CPD officer for allegedly cutting him off in traffic in 2014; a CPD officer who was charged with misdemeanor assault in Texas for allegedly drunkenly taunting and challenging a security guard and police officers; and others.
The investigation notes there have been efforts at reform. The city overhauled Chicago’s police oversight agency, the Independent Police Review Authority, or IPRA, after the Laquan McDonald shooting video was unearthed. A new agency called the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, or COPA, was established in its place.
However, as the report continues, COPA has to go through the same complex and time-consuming process as IPRA. CPD controls the records and keeps them on paper. The report says there is no real management system in place to keep tabs on cases and as such, many “fall through the cracks.”
In many cases, the offending officers were given punishments that were later challenged and reduced. But even the reduced punishments were frequently not enforced due to the complex nature of the grievance filing process.
The report breaks it down, explaining that once an officer completes a form indicating intent to file a grievance through FOP challenging the punishment, disciplinary officials receive that same form and await the outcome in order to go forward with the disciplinary action. But if an officer decides not to appeal the case, disciplinary officials never receive the decision and thus don’t tell CPD to implement the punishment.
This situation unavoidably raises questions about CPD’s record-keeping process.
With such ineffectual and inefficient disciplinary procedures, it’s easy to see why CPD has made headlines for police misconduct cases. One estimate from the Better Government Association shows settlements stemming from police misconduct and brutality cases cost Chicago taxpayers $642 million from 2004 through 2015.
And those costs are only rising. In October a federal jury awarded the biggest amount for a case of Chicago police misconduct yet: $44.7 million to a man who was shot in the head by an off-duty Chicago police officer.
Chicagoans, including police officers, deserve more accountability and transparency in their police department.