Laquan’s killing wasn’t cop’s first go-round with misconduct

Perp walk time: Jason Van Dyke as he enters the courthouse.

Perp walk time: Jason Van Dyke as he enters the courthouse.

When Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald 16 times, it was one more step in the 14-year veteran officer’s history with the Chicago Police Department. Van Dyke was charged with misconduct 20 times, 18 of which were apparently carried through to a disciplinary hearing. In every case, he got off, including the complaint about Laquan’s killing.

Until he was charged with murder.

Chicago has more than 13,000 police officers for its 2.8 million citizens. According to data from the Citizens Police Data Project, a database compiled by the University of Chicago and the journalism nonprofit Invisible Institute, there have been more than 56,000 allegations of misconduct of police in the times reported on the database. Few of those complaints go anywhere, and most of the complaints go against a small group of officers.

“Repeat officers — those with 10 or more complaints — make up about 10 percent of the force but receive 30 percent of all complaints,” a summary of the database shows. “They average 3.7 times as many complaints per officer as the rest of the force.”

Ironically, all of this information was released only a week before Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder in Laquan’s killing and a video of the killing was released to the public.

The public release of the data about police complaints was a long time coming. The information comes from reports spanning 2002 to 2008 and 2011 to 2015, and was only released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and a legal battle that took years. In the latter time period, there were 28,567 allegations of misconduct. Less than two percent of those cases resulted in disciplinary action.

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There’s a racial disparity in what happens to the complaints. “Black Chicagoans filed 61 percent of all complaints in the database, but make up only 25 percent of sustained complaints,” the summary says. “White Chicagoans — who filed 21 percent of total complaints — account for 58 percent of sustained complaints.” One reason for that disparity is that not all black citizens follow through with the entire complaint process by filing an affidavit.

There’s also a racial disparity in officer discipline. “Although very few officers were disciplined in the years covered by the data, African-American officers were punished at twice the rate of their white colleagues for the same offenses,” says a story in The New York Times.

“The allegations against Van Dyke include 10 complaints of excessive force, including two incidents where he allegedly used a firearm, causing injury,” says a story in the Washington Post describing the database and some of the cases against Van Dyke. “He was also accused of improper searches and making racially or ethnically biased remarks. Four of the allegations were proven factual, but Van Dyke’s actions were deemed lawful and appropriate. In most of the other cases, there was either not enough evidence to prove or disprove the complaint or the allegation was proven unfounded.”

At a news conference before the release of the now infamous video, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried to imply that Van Dyke was not like the vast majority of police officers — he was a “bad apple.” But if most of the complaints go against the “bad apples” in the CPD, why are those officers still on the job? That’s a question that Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy haven’t answered yet.

Also unanswered is why it took more than a year to charge Van Dyke and why the city was willing to pay Laquan’s family $5 million when they hadn’t even filed suit yet.

The Citizens Police Data Project gives information on how to file a complaint and includes a searchable database for all of the complaints in that database, which it admits is just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s where you can read the complaints against Van Dyke specifically.

The protests in Chicago after the release of the video were mostly peaceful. We hope that Chicago police don’t commit any other actions that result in more allegations of misconduct — allegations that most likely wouldn’t result in any meaningful action anyway.

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