Chicago brutality victims pay their torturer’s pension

Austin Berg

Senior Writer

Austin Berg
April 22, 2015

Chicago brutality victims pay their torturer’s pension

Jon Burge draws thousands of dollars each month from a broken system.

Former Chicago police commander Jon Burge’s rein of terror harmed more than 100 innocent Chicagoans and has cost the city millions.

But Burge still pockets public money at a rate of roughly $4,000 a month.

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel approved a $5.5 million reparations package on April 14 for Burge’s torture victims, some may have been surprised to know he continues to receive a city-funded pension.

Despite being sentenced to federal prison for lying about the torture cases in 2010, Burge has maintained a comfortable lifestyle on the backs of Chicago taxpayers, including victims of torture carried out under his watch. Burge’s methods included electric shocking, suffocation with plastic bags and beatings, all used to elicit false confessions from victims in the early 1970s through the early 1990s.

How does a man like Burge continue to receive pension checks?

In 2010, after Burge’s perjury conviction, he and his pension were judged by the city’s police pension board, an eight-person group that included four of Burge’s fellow Chicago policemen.

When the board held a vote on whether Burge should be allowed to receive his pension, the four current or former Chicago police officers on the board voted for Burge to keep receiving his payment, while the four civilian trustees voted against it, according to the Chicago Tribune. Per board policy, the tie went to Burge.

Of course, there were calls to reform the board in the wake of this infuriating outcome. Attorney General Lisa Madigan took the case to the Illinois Supreme Court and lost.

In the wake of the court’s decision, former Gov. Pat Quinn signed a state law in December 2014 giving the attorney general more power to stop pension payments from flowing to convicted felons in the future, regardless of pension board decisions.

Burge will continue to draw his $4,000 pension payment each month until he dies – or until Chicago’s police pension fund becomes insolvent. The city’s police pension system has less than 30 cents on hand for every dollar it needs to pay for future benefits. That’s not because criminals like Burge are receiving payments; it’s because the costs of defined-benefit pension plans have skyrocketed while lawmakers deliberately underfunded them.

The Burge torture case is an unholy mix of deeper problems in Chicago’s political landscape: corruption and a broken pension system are chief among them. The former should be addressed – especially in the realm of policing – through increased transparency and accountability. The latter needs an honest discussion of the city’s enormous debt problem and a move to take government out of the retirement business altogether.

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