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“Statistical Evidence Not Required”

eye on the news

“Statistical Evidence Not Required”

The conclusions of the Justice Department’s damning report on the Chicago Police Department were probably foreordained. January 16, 2017
Public safety
Politics and law

The most important statement in the Justice Department’s damning report on the Chicago Police Department has nothing to do with police behavior. Released on Friday, the report found the Chicago police guilty of a “pattern or practice” of unconstitutional force. But it turns out that the Justice Department has no standard for what constitutes a “pattern or practice” (the phrase comes from a 1994 federal statute) of unconstitutional police conduct. “Statistical evidence is not required” for a “pattern or practice” finding, the DOJ lawyers announce, citing unrelated court precedent. Nor is there “a specific number of incidents” required to constitute a “pattern or practice,” they proclaim.

Having cleared themselves of any obligation to provide “a specific number of [unconstitutional] incidents” or a statistical benchmark for evaluating them, the DOJ attorneys proceed to ignore any further obligation of transparency. The reader never learns how many incidents of allegedly unconstitutional behavior the Justice Department found, nor how those incidents compare with the universe of police-civilian contacts conducted by the Chicago Police Department. No clue is provided regarding why the DOJ lawyers concluded that the alleged abuses reached the mysterious threshold for constituting a pattern or practice. Instead, the report uses waffle words like “several,” “often,” or “many” as a substitute for actual quantification. This vacuum of information hasn’t stopped the mainstream media from trumpeting the report as yet another exposé of abusive, racist policing. Excessive force is rife in chicago, u.s. review finds, read the headline on the New York Times’s front-page story, which went on to note that the excessive force was “chiefly aimed at African-Americans and Latinos.”

The report does disclose that the DOJ attorneys reviewed 425 incidents of less-than-lethal force between January 2011 and April 2016. But what proportion of total force incidents those 425 events represent or how many of those 425 incidents the federal lawyers found unconstitutional isn’t revealed. As to how many stops and arrests were made over that same time period that didn’t involve the use of force, the reader can only guess.

We also learn that the federal civil rights team identified 203 officer-involved shootings between January 1, 2011, and March 21, 2016. How many of those were bad shootings? Fifteen? One hundred? The reader is left in the dark. The massive New York Police Department averaged 48 shootings a year from 2005 to 2015. The per-capita rate of officer shootings in the NYPD is therefore much lower than in the Chicago Police Department, which is about a third the size. But Chicago’s crime rate is much higher than New York’s; CPD officers confront many more armed and resisting suspects.  It would have been useful to know how the ratio of officer-involved shootings to criminal shootings in Chicago compares to other cities. We don’t even learn how many of those 203 officer-involved shootings in Chicago were lethal.

The absence of any quantified evidence for DOJ’s judgment of systemic abuse is all the more significant, since it was only yesterday that Chicago law enforcement was the darling of the left-wing academic establishment. In 2010, the New York City Bar Association held a forum on the New York Police Department, during which Columbia University law professor Jeffrey Fagan and Yale University law professor Tracey Meares both touted the Chicago department as a model that the big, bad NYPD should emulate. (I participated on that bar panel as well.) Meares and her Yale colleague Tom Tyler have used the Chicago Police Department as a laboratory for their concept of “procedural justice and legitimacy.” The Obama administration’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing incorporated the procedural justice idea from Chicago into its May 2015 report; the Justice Department distributes the Chicago procedural justice curriculum to other departments, according to Time magazine. John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor David Kennedy worked with Chicago on his theory of violence reduction. Garry McCarthy, who was superintendent of the Chicago Police Department during the period covered by the DOJ’s report, presented himself as a “reform” commander focused on community relations, and he was received as such by academia and the media. The Chicago PD’s extensive collaboration with academic researchers was the hot topic during a November 2015 conference of the American Society of Criminology, reports Time.

Were all those academics wrong? If the Chicago PD was so awash in civil rights violations, why didn’t these liberal professors notice? Or did the Justice Department start out with a foreordained conclusion regarding the racist CPD and produce a report to confirm it? DOJ’s investigation began in December 2015, after the release of a video showing the unjustified police shooting of Laquan McDonald in October 2014. By then, the Black Lives Matter movement was in full gear nationally; anti-cop riots had torn apart Ferguson and Baltimore and would continue to spread mayhem over the next year. The chance that under such circumstances, DOJ wouldn’t continue its own pattern of denouncing police departments for racism based on flimsy evidence was slight. The attorneys didn’t even bother to interview McCarthy for their report.

The lack of any transparent methodology is the most damning aspect of the DOJ analysis, but its racial accusations are the most dangerous. The federal attorneys have the gall to recycle the calumny from “the community” that the “CPD does not genuinely care about the murders of young black men and women, and [does] too little to investigate and resolve those homicides,” in the words of the report.

Such a claim is a travesty. Scores of detectives work around the clock to try to bring gang thugs to justice, only to encounter a wall of silence from victims and witnesses. It is the members of “the community” who do too little to resolve the homicides. After a five-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy were shot on July 4, 2016, in West Englewood, a funeral director urged local residents to start cooperating with the police, reported DNAInfo. “When our grandsons and nephews do the shooting, we run into the house and lock the door. It’s time to stand up and say ‘This will not be accepted,’” Devry Graham told an assembled group of neighbors. Alderman Raymond Lopez agreed that the “no-snitch” ethic had to end. “In every community we’ve seen bullets hit community members. We know who these offenders are, but we as a community need to step it up and say that we will work with the police to get these situations rectified,” Lopez said.

When gang members executed nine-year-old Tyshawn Lee after luring him into an alley with the promise of candy in November 2015, his gangbanger father refused to help the police solve the murder. I spoke with the detectives who relentlessly tracked the interstate escape of the assassins and finally cracked the case; their passion and outrage were evident.

The federal investigators appear oblivious to the profound disorder and predation in gang-infested neighborhoods. After echoing the charge that the CPD doesn’t try hard enough to solve crimes in black neighborhoods, the report implies that assertive officers who seek out crime in between their radio assignments are over-aggressive. The civil rights attorneys are clearly alarmed that promotion to specialized gang units depends on “aggression, hustle, and effort,” in the words of a sergeant. The attorneys question the use of arrests as one measure of productivity—having just repeated the lie that the department doesn’t care about clearing cases. The federal investigators are scandalized by a suggestion during a Compstat crime-analysis meeting that car stops be increased to quell a spate of drive-by shootings. “There was no discussion,” primly respond the Washington attorneys, “about . . . the negative impact [the tactic] could have on police-community relations.” The impact of drive-by shootings on the “community” is not addressed.

It wouldn’t be a Justice Department civil rights report without a spurious population benchmark to measure allegedly biased policing. The Chicago report notes portentously that blacks were the subjects of 76 percent of force incidents between 2011 and early 2016, while whites were only 8 percent of force subjects, though blacks and whites are each about a third of Chicago’s population. Ergo, biased policing.

Here is the data that you will never find in any Justice Department civil rights report. In 2014, a thoroughly representative year, blacks made up 79 percent of all known non-fatal shooting suspects in Chicago, 85 percent of all known robbery suspects, and 77 percent of all known murder suspects, according to police department records. Whites were 1 percent of known non-fatal shooting suspects in 2014, 2.5 percent of known robbery suspects, and 5 percent of known murder suspects, the latter category being composed almost exclusively of domestic violence incidents. Whites are virtually absent from the population of violent street criminals, which is the population against which police force is most likely to be used. There is no evidence, in other words, that the use of force is racially biased.

The DOJ report argues at length that the only way to ensure necessary reforms of this blackguard department is via a court-enforced consent decree backed up by “an independent monitoring team . . . of policing and other experts.” The Obama administration is clearly nervous that the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump will be less enthusiastic about saddling financially struggling police departments with tens of millions of dollars in compliance costs in the service of statistically innumerate consent decrees. Simply paying a federal monitor and his team will likely cost Chicago taxpayers dearly. The LAPD spent about $40 million trying to comply with its consent decree in its first year in 2000 and $50 million a year for several years thereafter, for a total of about $300 million over 12 years, estimated Los Angeles’s chief legislative analyst in 2015.

One of the first things that the Trump Justice Department should do is figure out how to lighten the burden of existing consent decrees on law enforcement agencies; next, it should decide whether to pull the plug on those decrees that have not yet been finalized, as in Chicago. Simply compiling the paperwork demanded by the Justice Department investigators required the full-time labor of a Chicago sergeant and five officers. Much more manpower would have to be ripped away from crime-fighting in order to feed the insatiable appetite of a federal monitor for endless reports. And what would the federal monitor use as his benchmark for constitutional policing anyway, since DOJ never revealed its standard for finding the CPD a constitutional reprobate?  

The report does suggest some necessary reforms, but these were no-brainers, already well-known to the department. All those changes would be impeded, not helped, by a consent decree, since they all require more officers and more funding, both of which would be diverted to consent-decree compliance. The department is deficient in supervisors. The ratio of sergeants to officers—about one to 14—should be almost twice that. No sergeant showed up to the Laquan McDonald incident before McDonald was killed, though the incident was clearly already serious enough to require supervision. And though the officers following McDonald had called for a Taser, one never arrived.

The DOJ report is correct that officers need more tactical training and more training in communication and de-escalation skills. In-service training for officers already on the job should be mandatory, as the report recommends. But if there were ready money for such improvements, they would have been implemented years ago. The videos taken by officer body cameras, once such cameras become universal, will cost a fortune to store, posing another financial challenge to the department.

Commanders and supervisors also need more training. Previous superintendents decimated the higher reaches of the CPD, leaving a command structure light on management experience. Younger officers and supervisors lack mentors. This isn’t a problem that compliance paper-pushing will solve.

Chicago is the country’s most shocking example of what I have called the Ferguson effect: the phenomenon of police officers in high-crime areas backing off of proactive policing, resulting in the emboldening of criminals. With investigatory stops down 82 percent through most of 2016 compared with 2015, there were over 3,400 shootings in Chicago last year. One person was shot every two hours on average. The police shot just over 25 people, or 0.6 percent of all total shootings. The DOJ report is silent about that ratio. The biggest challenge facing the CPD today is how to encourage officers to reengage with criminal suspects. The DOJ report is silent about that matter as well.

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has said that he intends to sign a consent decree putting the CPD under federal management; Emanuel undoubtedly calculates that aligning himself with the expiring Obama Justice Department serves his future political career. If current CPD superintendent Eddie Johnson isn’t willing to oppose this costly and unnecessary burden, the best hope for the thousands of law-abiding residents of Chicago’s high-crime areas is a change in both tone and policy from the White House.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

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