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Police Upset After Hyde Park Journalist Publishes Complaints: Union Chief

By Sam Cholke | August 1, 2014 8:27am
 Officers are reporting more tension on their beats and at home after a Hyde Park journalist published a list of 662 officers who had more than 10 complaints against them over an eight-year period.
Officers are reporting more tension on their beats and at home after a Hyde Park journalist published a list of 662 officers who had more than 10 complaints against them over an eight-year period.
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HYDE PARK — Police officers are facing tough questions from family members, and many report feeling tense on their beats after a Hyde Park journalist and lawyer published complaints against 662 officers, a police union leader said.

“Our members are burning up our phones,” said Dean Angelo Sr., president of the Chicago lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.

On Wednesday, Hyde Park journalist Jamie Kalven published the number and type of complaints against 662 officers that he obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The lists were compiled during police misconduct cases Kalven and University of Chicago lawyer Craig Futterman participated in, and Kalven spent seven years in court to get the lists made public. Most of the complaints are from 2001 through 2008 and only include officers working in public housing with more than 10 complaints on their record.

“Although six years have passed since the most recent complaints covered, the lists retain great currency,” Kalven wrote when he published the list on Wednesday. “In combination with other information in the public domain, they will reveal patterns of alleged police criminality and raise questions about why the department didn't identify those patterns and intervene to address them.”

Angelo said the release of the list has caused distress among the rank-and-file officers.

He said one officer who appeared on the list alleged that his college-age daughter got a message on Facebook that read, “We’ve got your names now, a-------.”

“If it’s not a threat, it’s very ignorant, and not something a daughter should have to hear,” Angelo said.

When Kalven and Futterman pursued the list, they argued that it would show that the top brass was doing nothing about a small number of officers who were racking up a large number of complaints.

“I have no doubt the lists include honorable, effective officers,” Kalven wrote. “They also include criminals with badges who have been able to operate with impunity and do great harm to those they are sworn to protect and to their department, because of the deficiencies of the city's system for investigating complaints of police abuse.”

Among those with the most complaints on the list are Keith Herrera and Jerome Finnigan, rogue officers who were later caught breaking into people’s homes and shaking down drug dealers.

Angelo said he hopes that the list also shows the public that all police get a few complaints in their careers.

He said there is a boisterous group, who could be a vocal minority already biased against police, that is making officers feel like the release of the list threatens their work.

Futterman used a censored version of the list in a 2007 study to show that the Chicago Police Department was ignoring corrupt officers on the force, and that the good officers bear some responsibility for protecting the bad through a no-snitching code.

That small minority of bad officers included the “Skullcap Crew,” a special unit of officers accused in 2003 of beating and threatening to rape and kill witnesses. Futterman pursued the officers in a 2003 case, which uncovered a large number of complaints being ignored and which prompted reforms into investigations of police misconduct.

“Because the vast majority of officers get only a few complaints in their entire careers, it is easy to identify those who may be engaged in a pattern of abusive behavior,” Futterman wrote in his analysis of the list. “They literally jump off the page.”

Only 33 officers had more than 30 complaints against them from 2001 to 2006, according to Futterman.

Angelo said to respect the majority of officers with limited complaints against them, Kalven should have censored the list to only include those that were clearly outliers.

“To me this is like releasing your subjects when you told them it was confidential,” Angelo said.

Kalven writes that a recent analysis of police data in Padilla v. Chicago shows that there is less than a 1-in-1,000 chance that an officer will be disciplined at all if a complaint is lodged against him.

“It is precisely because of the critical role they play in our society that the police must be held to high standards of accountability and must, like other public officials, sometimes endure public criticism they feel is unfair,” Kalven said.

Angelo said it’s unclear to him what the fallout will be from releasing the list, but officers remain unhappy and on edge in the immediate aftermath of full disclosure.

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