On Friday, Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) opens for business, with expanded powers, more investigators and a bigger caseload than its notoriously ineffective predecessor, the Independent Police Review Authority. The ordinance that created COPA appointed an inspector general for public safety to audit its work and gave it broader jurisdiction to investigate Taser discharges and civil rights complaints such as illegal search, false arrest and denial of counsel.
The two agencies aren’t as different as critics had wanted; among other things, the city-appointed COPA falls short of the elected oversight body demanded by racial justice groups after the Laquan McDonald scandal. Another reform that didn’t happen was transferring oversight of rape investigations to COPA. Consequently, when a Chicago police officer is accused of rape, another Chicago police officer will still lead the investigation, despite objections from sexual assault advocates and lawmakers interviewed by In These Times.
IPRA Chief Sharon Fairley, who will head COPA as well, says that granting an independent agency jurisdiction over the cases could address concerns about biased investigations and encourage more victims of police sexual violence to come forward.
“There are people who would feel more comfortable sharing their concerns, their complaints, with somebody who is not staring across the desk with a badge and a gun,” she says.
Either the city or state could pass a measure to create independent oversight of sexual abuse cases. But any such attempt would run into a major roadblock: The Fraternal Order of Police. Earlier this year, the police union flexed its political clout in the statehouse to water down House Bill 270, the Law Enforcement Sexual Assault Investigation Act. The bill, introduced in December 2016, by state Rep. Litesa Wallace (D‑Rockford), stipulated, among other measures, that an independent agency have jurisdiction over police-involved sexual assault cases. (Last week, Wallace joined State Sen. Daniel Biss’ gubenatorial campaign as his pick for lieutenant governor).
The FOP was the loudest voice in opposition to the bill, according to an In These Times review of both Illinois General Assembly records and state lobbyist disclosures. These records show the FOP’s Chicago and Illinois lodges employ powerful lobbyists with strong political ties who descended on Springfield to push back against the law. Wallace says police union opposition prompted amendments to the bill that exclude the Chicago Police Department and Illinois State Police from the independent investigation requirement.
With the amendments, the law passed both the House and Senate and was sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner ® to sign on August 4. The governor’s office hasn’t responded to questions about whether he will sign it or not. Either way, the state’s largest, and arguably most troublesome, police department in Illinois won’t have to abide by one of the bill’s core elements.
In January, a 13-month Department of Justice probe of the Chicago Police Department found a number of factors impede effective investigations of police misconduct. Among them were bias by investigators and a lack of specific training for investigators when police are accused of sexual assault or domestic violence and internal affairs closing administrative cases due to lack of evidence for criminal charges. However evidence standards for administrative cases are lower than in criminal probes.
Several Chicago police are currently under investigation for alleged sexual assault, such as Eugene Ciardullo, accused of having sexual contact with a student at the high school where he moonlighted as a security guard. Other high-profile cases in the past decade include former CPD officer Allen Hall, convicted in 2014 of sexually assaulting his adult niece years ago when she was a child and for molesting her toddler daughter in 2013— months after department’s internal affairs division threw out another sexual assault complaint against him because his alleged victim wouldn’t sign a sworn affidavit.
In 2011, Officers Paul Clavijo and Juan Vasquez were charged with criminal sexual assaults of women they picked up at night in the Lakeview neighborhood and gave rides home in their squad car. They plead guilty to official misconduct as part of a deal with prosecutors. In a civil suit filed by one of the women, her lawyers argued: “Chicago police officers accused of sexual misconduct against citizens can be confident that the city will not investigate those accusations in earnest,” according to the suit.
In 2010, CPD officer Robert Watson was accused of sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman he offered a ride home on the South Side. The case resulted in suspensions for Watson and his partner, Jerome Starks, who was with him during the alleged assault— and a $400,000 settlement—but an internal investigation cleared Watson of any sexual misconduct.
In These Times sent several emails and made several calls to FOP President Kevin Graham, Second Vice President Martin Preib and lobbyists working on behalf of the FOP seeking comment for this story, but received no response.
Wallace’s claims of opposition from police unions are validated by Illinois General Assembly records that show the Illinois FOP, the Illinois FOP Labor Council, the Illinois Trooper #41 FOP lodge and the Chicago lodge of the FOP, the nation’s largest local FOP chapter, all voiced opposition to the Law Enforcement Sexual Assault Investigation Act.
State Sen. Patricia Van Pelt (D‑5th), of Chicago, addressed the FOP’s opposition to the bill in a statement, that read in part: “It’s not surprising that the FOP tends to oppose measures that would hold law enforcement officers accountable for incidences of misconduct.”
State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D‑8th) of Chicago described the bill as a matter of public safety.
“I urge the Governor to sign the bill to make it the law of the land in Illinois. The power of the Police in our country can protect citizens or it can destroy citizens lives,” says Ford. “History teaches us that absolute power can corrupt absolutely. If this bill becomes law it will add a new system of protection for citizens and a new deterrent for police misconduct.”
Ford has had his own run-ins with the police union. Last year, Ford’s efforts to pass a bill prohibiting the destruction of police disciplinary records also ran into opposition from the FOP.
Shielding Departments Against Reform
Police unions have a history of shielding departments from reform — whether that’s through controversial contracts that hinder federal efforts to address civil rights abuses at local police departments and keep misconduct in the shadows, or through state laws that obstruct investigations into police misconduct. In Chicago the FOP lodge has a history of bristling at civilian oversight and discrediting the legitimacy of both IPRA and its successor COPA.
Critics of Chicago’s police union often point to its contracts as a prime example of how the FOP stands in the way of reform. For example, one of the contract’s current provisions requires a civilian who files complaints against police to sign a sworn affidavit under threat of perjury. The FOP says this helps discourage false complaints, but reform advocates argue that it discourages victims of police abuse, including sexual assault survivors, from coming forward.
Fairley wouldn’t put herself in the minds of legislators who decided to exempt Chicago policemen from the requirement for independent police sexual assault cases, saying she lacked firsthand knowledge of the FOP’s role. “But I will say,” she offers, “that it’s pretty common knowledge that the FOP really just doesn’t like the whole concept of civilian oversight.”
As bills are introduced and pass through committee hearings on their way to votes in the Illinois legislature, members of the public have the opportunity to file what are known as witness slips‑ — filed either on their own behalf or on behalf of organizations — to document their position on the bill.
Looking at five House committee hearings held from February 8 to March 21, in the early stages of the bill, police unions were virtually alone in filing witness slips in opposition. Of 117 individuals who filed witness slips at the first hearing, the overwhelming majority that supported it included the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Association, the Illinois chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
Only five slips at that first hearing were in filed in opposition. Of those five, all but one were lobbyists working on behalf of an FOP lodge.
Wallace says she grew concerned that backlash from police unions would kill the bill and stifle a needed conversation about policing and sexual violence. On March 24, she filed an amendment to exclude the state police and cities with populations more than 1 million — in other words, Chicago. No other Illinois city comes close to that size.
The amendment passed a March 29 vote. But on April 21, Wallace had a change of heart.
“I felt it was important to try to make sure that [the bill include] the largest law enforcement agency in our state, and one that has a department of justice report that examines the fact that they could do far better in investigating allegations of abuse of power,” Wallace says. “That is why I initially wanted to make sure Chicago was included to the fullest extent.”
She filed an amendment that put Chicago back under the independent investigation requirement (but left the state police exemption in place). The committee adopted the amendment unanimously, and on April 27, the bill passed the House 112 – 1, with the only nay vote coming from Army veteran Rep. Daniel Swanson (R‑74th District) a conservative elected in 2016 whose campaign website characterizes him a pro-life, card-holding member of the NRA who believes marriage should only be between “a man and a woman.”
When the law arrived in the Illinois Senate on May 2, the chief sponsor was Sen. Steve Stadelman (D‑34th District). Wallace says she met with research staff, Sen. Stadelman and Senate President John Cullerton (D), to try to figure out how to pass something that is in the best interest of the state that could also get passed into law. So on May 29, Stadelman filed a Senate amendment that again struck Chicago from the requirement of an independent investigation. The bill passed the senate 51 – 0, and the House approved the rule changes. The law went to Rauner August 4.
FOP: Oversight Hurts “Police Morale”
Witness slips aren’t the only way police unions pushed back against reform. Lobbying records shine additional light on the FOP’s behind-the-scenes clout.
The Illinois Lobbyist Registration Act doesn’t require state lobbyists to file reports about how much they are compensated for their efforts, but it does require them to disclose money spent while lobbying officials. One of the lobbyists registered on behalf of the Chicago FOP in 2017, Raucci & Sullivan Strategies, spent $9,353 on meals and private parties with politicians between January and June, lobbying them for various issues on behalf of clients like energy giant Comed, transportation agency Metra, the Illinois Bankers Association, among others, including the FOP’s Chicago lodge. Records show partner Dave Sullivan, a former Republican Illinois State Senator, shared meals with more than 30 state representatives and state senators. Sullivan also organized several private affairs with elected officials, including a May 24 shrimp boil and a May 29 “end of session party” where 60 officials were expected to attend.
Sullivan was among those who filed witness slips against the bill for the FOP.
He met with Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D), vice-chairman of the House Judiciary-Criminal Committee, on Jan. 11, Feb. 22, March 22, May 18, and June 28 at various Springfield restaurants, including Augie’s Front Burner and Maldaner’s Restaurant. The subject matter of the meetings are listed as “goodwill” but there’s no specific reference to any legislation.
Cassidy told In These Times in an email statement, “I was not engaged in the negotiations on the bill and do not recall ever discussing this piece of legislation with Mr. Sullivan.” The chairman of the committee, Rep. Elgie R. Simms, Jr. (D), did not return calls for comment about the negotiations around HB 270.
According to Wallace, part of the FOP’s argument against oversight was “police morale.” Good officers might resent additional accountability measures, given the national conversations around trust and mistrust of law enforcement agents.
Wallace, the daughter of a retired law enforcement agent, says she finds arguments like that hard to swallow. “I don’t think that protections for the public or oversight and accountability are attacks on police officers,” she says. “I think they’re actually quite the opposite; it makes our law enforcement greater, stronger, a little more compassionate, and hopefully it brings out principled part of the force which then helps eliminate others bad behavior and helps set a standard the public wants to see.”
“What kind of police do you call on the police?”
Wallace says that while the police reform fight in Chicago weighed heavily on her mind as she drafted the legislation, her initial inspiration was the Daniel Holtzclaw case in Oklahoma.
The national conversation around police abuse of power, especially in the media, is usually centered on the experiences of black and brown men beat or shot by police. But Holtzclaw’s case brought another set of victims to light.
In January 2016, the former Oklahoma cop was sentenced to 263 years in prison for preying on black women and girls while on patrol. He targeted low-income women, women with rap sheets or women who he picked up on suspicion of committing crimes like drug possession and prostitution.
His youngest victim was 17. She testified that in June 2014, she was walking home one night when Holtzclaw stopped her and drove her home, where he led her to the porch of her house and searched her, supposedly for drugs. He groped her, pulled her pink shorts down and raped her. Her DNA was found on the inside of his uniform trousers.
During her testimony she asked, “What kind of police do you call on the police?” The line stuck with Wallace, and raised a question for her, “Are we empowering people to be able to report this particular abuse of power?”
That was the impetus for her seeking to ensure that survivors have an independent entity — an institution other than the one whose employee might have committed the offense — to handle rape investigations.
Polly Poskin, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA), has supported the bill since its early days, and filed three witness slips in support. Poskin praised Wallace as a forward-thinking lawmaker, casting her bill as “part of the long term battle to try to awaken both the institutions and the general public that sexual abuse of women is hideously unacknowledged and responded to in a way that does not support the victim coming forward.”
What’s critical to ICASA, she says, is that when people in positions of power commit sexual assault, there are independent investigations into their crimes. “Police have a lot of power and authority to determine if there’s probable cause,” Poskin says. “I think there can be a tendency among some officers in some jurisdictions to protect other officers.”
Poskin says that police in Chicago shouldn’t be held to a different standard than police in any other city in Illinois, and neither should the Illinois State Police. That Chicago is exempted, however, reflects the power of the FOP: “They were able to exert will against it and prevail,” she says.
“What should be looked at is: ‘What is the best public policy to apply across the board…regardless of the population of the city?’ “ she says. “We think it’s misguided by the police union to request and actually secure the exemption for the CPD.”
Last year, city officials did raise the prospect of establishing independent investigations into police sexual assault allegations amid discussions about what agency should replace IPRA.
Chicago Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa was one of the co-sponsors of a rival ordinance that would have established the Civilian Police Accountability Council, which was a radically different idea than COPA. He says CPAC is the product of a grassroots movement that traces its genesis back to the Black Panthers, and the demands made by the group for community control of the police.
CPAC would have been governed by democratically elected officials. It would have had power to select a superintendent of police, and the authority to review and sign off on all new CPD policies. CPAC also would have had the power to negotiate and approve police union contracts, and would conduct investigations into misconduct — with jurisdiction over sexual assault cases.
And even though the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression has led a multi-year campaign demanding community control of the police department, CPAC never gained enough support at City Hall or the Mayor’s Office.
“We’ve been working at a grassroots level to push for this ordinance since then, but given the strength of the police union lobby, and given the fears that man lot of alderman have around these issues, it’s been a slow moving effort despite the fact that at the grassroots level there’s overwhelming support for CPAC,” says Ramirez-Rosa, adding that more than 50,000 Chicagoans have signed on in support of CPAC.
In These Times asked Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office about its stance on HB270 and Chicago’s exclusion from the independent investigation requirement. We also asked why internal affairs handles alleged police sexual assault, and how the city felt about the idea of granting COPA jurisdiction over the cases. Despite repeated inquiries, mayoral spokesperson Julienn Kaviar would not offer specific answers to any of those questions. She did forward a statement that emphasized the city’s efforts to effectively handle police sexual assault cases. Starting June 1, new police recruits will undergo a new six-hour training block about handling reports of sexual assault, as stipulated in the recently passed Sexual Assault Incident Procedures Act. The statement read:
Criminal conduct is criminal — whether on-duty or off. We believe that Chicago residents deserve thoughtful, trained and substantiated investigations into all criminal allegations, and understand the specialized care and training necessary to conduct thorough investigations into sexual assault. … As part of reform efforts, the Police Department is working hard to rebuild the lines of communications and trust with residents and this year, the Department has implemented new training requirements for all new recruits around sexual assault investigations and reporting procedures.
Where there is an allegation against a police officers, in addition to the specially trained Detectives that conduct the criminal investigation, the Bureau of Internal Affairs conduct a parallel administrative investigation in collaboration with the Public Integrity Section of the State’s Attorney’s Office. In every case, investigation findings are presented for an independent prosecutorial review.
But the statement still doesn’t tackle the concerns about biased investigations. Detectives and internal affairs investigators remain Chicago police.
The symbiotic relationship between cops and prosecutors is viewed skeptically by many police reform advocates, who highlight it as one of the reasons why so few cops do hard time for brutalizing citizens.
Indeed, the #ByeAnita campaign that ousted former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez blasted the prosecutor for her mishandling of police misconduct cases, including her failed prosecution of Detective Dante Servin, who shot Rekia Boyd to death in 2012. Alvarez lost her post to challenger Kim Foxx in a landslide defeat last year. Alvarez critics also implicated her in the alleged coverup of the Laquan McDonald shooting. It took her office 13 months to bring charges against officer Jason Van Dyke, who was caught on camera firing a volley into the teen as he walked away from police.
Wallace acknowledges that prosecutors and judges also have a role to play in helping ensure police are held accountable, and that even “independent” agencies can be independent in name only. But she feels that HB 270, if the governor signs it, is a good first step toward ridding police sexual assault investigations of bias.
She cast her efforts as a continuation of work other black women have done to address sexual violence and ensure that survivors, especially from vulnerable communities, are not silenced.
“One of the pieces of the history of Rosa Parks we don’t talk about is that she was indeed a sexual assault advocate; she advocated for mostly black women who had been assaulted by white men and they weren’t given any justice,” Wallace says. “People were not taking the complaints, people did not follow through on trying to prosecute those individuals.”
She believes that the experiences of women and the LGBT community, and of sexual assault survivors, are often rendered invisible in conversations around police abuse of power — and that has to change.
“I’ve been looking at this perspective obviously, as a woman, as a woman of color, as a woman who has struggled economically; that’s the typical profile of the individuals who become victims of this type of police misconduct or police abuse of power,” she says. “I think this law helps move the conversation in a direction we have not gone in.”
Police misconduct attorney and organizer Andrea Ritchie recently published a book, Invisible No More, that makes a similar point: Sexual violence against women in the police reform debate. She tells In These Times, “The focus by journalists on police shootings of unarmed people as kind of the standard of ‘what is police violence’ leaves out a lot of women who are experiencing police violence — including sexual violence.”
This reporting was supported by a grant from the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting.