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Police Wed May 11 2011

Reserve Judgment On New CPD Super

Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel announced his selection of Newark's Garry McCarthy for the top post in the Chicago Police Department a week ago, and only a few days later, the Department of Justice announced it would be investigating structural and on-going violations of civil and human rights by the Newark Police Department. The investigation is the result of a comprehensive petition filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey. (For copies of the ACLU's cover letter and petition, see below the jump).

After Emanuel's selection of embattled Rochester schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, this revelation could prompt some reasonable speculation as to whether McCarthy was the best choice to lead a department that has regularly been accused of insensitivity to human and civil rights. But while the fact of the investigation warrants scrutiny, judgment of McCarthy himself should be withheld until the nature of the ACLU's allegations are better understood.

The petition is enormous, coming with a supplement (also included below). The ACLU alleges that the problems are structural, and go back decades; McCarthy has been leading the NPD since 2006, so the relevant inquiry is not whether there were problems under his supervision, but rather whether those problems decreased, or whether there were affirmative steps to address those problems during his time leading the department.

This is an important distinction between Brizard and McCarthy: Brizard's tenure in Rochester was characterized not only by an apparent unwillingness to work with important stakeholders, but also little to no evidence of improvement of results. This overall picture raises serious questions about what exactly endorses Brizard for his promotion to head of one of the largest school districts in the country (CPS has twice as many students as Rochester has residents). The DOJ investigation says nothing about the potential improvement under McCarthy.

The piece of information that should give Chicagoans pause is that the ACLU went to great pains to show that the problems with the Newark's police department were "not simply historical." The "study period" in which they found 400 allegations of misconduct was January 2008 to the time of filing in late 2010.

If the problems in the NPD were structural, McCarthy, who took over in 2006, would have had only two years to address those problems. The high volume of complaints against the NPD under his leadership could only be attributable to deficiencies in his management if actual, intentional acts or forbearance of action on his part are extant. This can't be known until the DOJ investigation is concluded, which, given the immensity of the complaint, will be a while.

Looking over the petition from the ACLU, there isn't prima facie evidence that there was some sort of active failure--a policy that contributed to misconduct--on McCarthy's part, although there is some troubling information.

The petition breaks down the misconduct in this way:

Lawsuits settled in the past 2 ½ years: 38
Lawsuits filed in the past 2 ½ years that remain pending: 37
Notices of tort claim for conduct in the past 2 ½ years, excluding those that
developed into lawsuits listed above: 50
Other complaints of misconduct in the past 2 ½ years not included above: 21
Internal affairs complaints alleging excessive force, improper arrest entry, or search,
or differential treatment filed in calendar 2008 and 2009: 261

It's that 261 number in particular that warrants close attention. It is covered in Section XI of the petition. The thing is, of those 261 complaints to internal affairs, only one was sustained. This defies reason. Just as it would be absurd to think any big-city police department was wholly corrupt or vicious, so is it absurd to think that any big-city police department could be nearly wholly free of corruption, viciousness, or misconduct.

The ACLU put this number in context:

The rate of sustained complaints is abysmally low. Nationally, it has been found that about 8 percent of complaints about police use of force are sustained.In the NPD, zero (0) of the 128 complaints alleging "excessive force" were sustained.

Compare that national average to the NPD's rate during the last two years of McCarthy's tenure, 0.004%. That is 2,000 times below the national average. This indicates, though of course is not conclusive proof of, a broken Internal Affairs system in Newark. Given Chicago's historical and current problems in a similar area, McCarthy's efforts in this area--or even his basic awareness and recognition of the problem--compel further investigation.

But it could very well turn out that McCarthy did know of the problems, and did address them to the best of his ability; and in fact, this would make him an ideal choice to lead a department with similar problems.

ACLU NJ Petition Cover Letter

ACLU NJ Petition

ACLU NJ Petition Supplement

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