How Chicago’s Police Union Contract Ensures Abuses Remain in the Shadows

Activists are calling on the city to represent victims of police violence in upcoming contract negotiations.

Adeshina Emmanuel

(Illustration by Roan Boucher)

In April, Chica­go police vot­ed in a fiery new union pres­i­dent, Kevin Gra­ham, who has vowed to fight the attacks of the anti-police media.” Gra­ham wast­ed no time in mak­ing his agen­da clear. We look for­ward to imme­di­ate­ly prepar­ing for the upcom­ing con­tract nego­ti­a­tions, fight­ing the anti-police move­ment in the city, and obtain­ing fair due process and dis­ci­pline for our mem­bers,” he said in a state­ment fol­low­ing his victory.

Police allegedly spit in a coffee maker, urinated on mail and assaulted the three men, but failed to find anything illegal in the apartment.

The union con­tract between the city of Chica­go and the 8,000-member Fra­ter­nal Order of Police (FOP) expires in June. Pre­vi­ous con­tract nego­ti­a­tions have tak­en place out of the pub­lic eye, but this year, a high-pro­file fight is brewing.

A Feb­ru­ary report from the Coali­tion for Police Con­tract Account­abil­i­ty (CPCA) observes that the city’s con­tract, as well as a sep­a­rate agree­ment with the sergeants’ union, make it too hard to iden­ti­fy police mis­con­duct, and too easy for police offi­cers to lie about and hide mis­con­duct.” The coali­tion, which includes the ACLU of Illi­nois, Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) and the Work­ers Cen­ter for Racial Jus­tice, has iden­ti­fied 14 con­tract pro­vi­sions it says impede inves­ti­ga­tions. One such pro­vi­sion allows police offi­cers to wait 24 hours to give a state­ment after shoot­ing some­one. Anoth­er pro­hibits anony­mous com­plaints against officers.

A few days before Graham’s elec­tion, at Occu­py Palm Sun­day, an annu­al gath­er­ing orga­nized by Chica­go church­es, Drea Hall of CPCA read these con­tract pro­vi­sions aloud to a palm-frond-wav­ing crowd. The crowd cho­rused in response, That ain’t right!”

Now’s the time to put pres­sure on our may­or, to put pres­sure on our alder­men to do the right thing,” she said.

Activists aren’t alone in zero­ing in on police union con­tracts as a road­block to reform. A Jan­u­ary Reuters inves­ti­ga­tion exam­ined con­tracts in 82 cities and found a pat­tern of pro­tec­tions that cre­ate hur­dles for cit­i­zens in report­ing police abuse. Most con­tracts require destruc­tion of police dis­ci­pli­nary records after a cer­tain peri­od. Near­ly half allow offi­cers to view the evi­dence against them before being ques­tioned about alleged mis­con­duct. Chicago’s FOP con­tract con­tains both of these provisions.

The city’s Police Account­abil­i­ty Task Force, com­mis­sioned by May­or Rahm Emanuel after the release of graph­ic video show­ing the fatal police shoot­ing of black teenag­er Laquan McDon­ald, report­ed in April 2016 that col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ments (CBAs) between police and the city had turned the code of silence into offi­cial pol­i­cy.” And in Jan­u­ary, fol­low­ing a 13-month civ­il rights inves­ti­ga­tion, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice (DOJ) con­clud­ed that Chica­go police rou­tine­ly use unrea­son­able force against civil­ians, par­tic­u­lar­ly African Amer­i­cans, and that defi­cient” account­abil­i­ty sys­tems aid and abet this behav­ior. The DOJ report specif­i­cal­ly urged the city to work with the unions to address cer­tain CBA provisions.”

Pri­or to Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion, it was assumed that if the DOJ found a pat­tern of unlaw­ful polic­ing in Chica­go, it would impose reforms via a court-mon­i­tored agree­ment. But that’s become unlike­ly, as both Trump and Attor­ney Gen­er­al Jeff Ses­sions have pledged to scale back fed­er­al over­sight of local law enforcement.

Absent help from the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, local reform­ers must now look to the city for lever­age. Activists have allies on the City Coun­cil, where more than a dozen of the 50 alder­men have signed on to a res­o­lu­tion call­ing on May­or Emanuel to endorse the CPCA’s 14 rec­om­mend­ed reforms to the FOP con­tract. In April, Alder­man and Black Cau­cus Chair­man Rod­er­ick Sawyer said that his 18-mem­ber group would vote down any con­tract that fails to include these changes.

For pro­gres­sives, this is tricky ter­rain. There’s a slip­pery slope when you start beat­ing up on unions,” says DeAn­ge­lo Bester, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Work­ers Cen­ter for Racial Jus­tice. No one wants to join that right-wing cho­rus …try­ing to destroy pub­lic bargaining.”

On the oth­er hand, police unions are sep­a­rate from the larg­er labor move­ment,” he says. These groups out there who go and endorse peo­ple like Don­ald Trump … who then goes and appoints peo­ple who are anti-union — I would say, let’s sep­a­rate them.”

Bester says pro­gres­sives should not work to under­cut police wages and ben­e­fits, but go after pro­vi­sions that allow police to get away with murder.”


One pro­vi­sion in par­tic­u­lar has emerged as a like­ly stick­ing point in the upcom­ing nego­ti­a­tions. Of the U.S. cities with the five largest police forces, only Chica­go restricts inves­ti­ga­tion of anony­mous com­plaints. In fact, the FOP con­tract requires not just a name but a sworn affi­davit. Many mis­con­duct com­plaints begin with a let­ter or phone call; an inves­ti­ga­tor must then fol­low up with the com­plainant. But if the indi­vid­ual can­not be reached again, or does not want to pro­vide a sworn state­ment, the inves­ti­ga­tion typ­i­cal­ly ends there: Accused offi­cers are not even ques­tioned. Anoth­er con­tract pro­vi­sion allows inves­ti­ga­tors to pro­ceed with­out an affi­davit in cer­tain cas­es, but they have done so just 17 times in the last five years, out of tens of thou­sands of com­plaints, accord­ing to the DOJ report.

Detec­tive Tra­cy Byer­ly, 44, works in the Chica­go Police Depart­ment (CPD) unit devot­ed to the inves­ti­ga­tion of sex crimes against chil­dren. She has been the sub­ject of just two mis­con­duct com­plaints in her 20 years on the police force, both of which came with affi­davits and nei­ther of which result­ed in dis­ci­pli­nary action. She sup­ports the affi­davit require­ment. In our legal sys­tem, you have the right to con­front your accuser,” she says. It’s the same thing for us.”

Advo­cates, how­ev­er, say civil­ians report­ing police mis­con­duct have good rea­son not to want to be iden­ti­fied, let alone sign an affi­davit. For one, doing so often requires an in-per­son meet­ing with an inves­ti­ga­tor, which can be intim­i­dat­ing and com­pli­cat­ed to arrange.

[The affi­davit require­ment] doesn’t sound like it’s unrea­son­able,” says Tor­reya Hamil­ton, an attor­ney who defend­ed the city in police mis­con­duct cas­es before open­ing her own firm to pros­e­cute the same type of cas­es in 2006. But they’ve cre­at­ed so many obsta­cles.… Some­times the com­plainant sim­ply can’t come in because they have work or didn’t have bus fare.”

Beyond logis­ti­cal chal­lenges, com­plainants may also fear reprisal from police. Con­tract rules require inves­ti­ga­tors to give the name of the com­plainant to the accused offi­cer before ques­tion­ing. And in cas­es of domes­tic abuse or sex­u­al assault by police, vic­tims may be ashamed or have a per­son­al rela­tion­ship with the offender.

The union declined to com­ment for this sto­ry. The FOP does not want to nego­ti­ate through the media,” Vice Pres­i­dent Mar­tin Prieb wrote in an email to In These Times. But a Feb­ru­ary post on the blog of The Blue Voice, Graham’s cam­paign slate, says the FOP will not sur­ren­der on affi­davits,” call­ing the issue non-nego­tiable.”

The FOP argues that affi­davits are need­ed to pre­vent a del­uge of false com­plaints. The low num­ber of sus­tained com­plaints — those that inves­ti­ga­tors deem to be sup­port­ed by enough evi­dence to jus­ti­fy dis­ci­pline — could sug­gest that many mis­con­duct alle­ga­tions are already base­less. Between 2010 and 2014, inves­ti­ga­tors sus­tained just 11 per­cent of the 7,300 com­plaints received with signed affidavits.

A Novem­ber 2016 study by Kyle Roze­ma and Max Schanzen­bach of North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty, how­ev­er, found that the vol­ume of civil­ian com­plaints against a Chica­go police offi­cer cor­re­lates with whether the offi­cer will even­tu­al­ly be sued for mis­con­duct, as well as the prob­a­bil­i­ty and size of a civ­il set­tle­ment. Unsworn civil­ian com­plaints were just as pre­dic­tive as those with affi­davits. Civil­ian alle­ga­tions, if prop­er­ly man­aged, could play an impor­tant role in reduc­ing police offi­cer mis­con­duct and cost­ly civ­il lia­bil­i­ties,” the study concludes.

Between 2004 and 2014, the city spent more than $500 mil­lion in police mis­con­duct law­suits, accord­ing to an analy­sis by the Bet­ter Gov­ern­ment Asso­ci­a­tion. Mean­while, about 40 per­cent of mis­con­duct com­plaints are closed each year because they lack affi­davits, accord­ing to the DOJ report. In These Times’ review sug­gests these unex­am­ined com­plaints could have act­ed as warn­ing signs.

Over the same 10-year peri­od, the 50 most com­plained-about Chica­go offi­cers aver­aged 17 no-affi­davit com­plaints each. Draw­ing on civil­ian com­plaint data released by the city in Octo­ber 2016, as well as inves­tiga­tive files obtained through Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act requests, In These Times iden­ti­fied at least a dozen cas­es in which police offi­cers sued for alleged mis­con­duct — includ­ing false arrests, war­rant­less search­es and exces­sive use of force against civil­ians — had pre­vi­ous­ly racked up mul­ti­ple com­plaints describ­ing sim­i­lar types of behav­ior. But because these com­plaints lacked affi­davits, they were nev­er investigated.

Sean Camp­bell, a white police offi­cer work­ing in the city’s Chica­go Lawn dis­trict, has been named in four sep­a­rate mis­con­duct law­suits that col­lec­tive­ly cost the city of Chica­go $96,000. In one 2015 case, Camp­bell and fel­low offi­cer Steven Sautkus were sued by Lashaun Duprey, a 20-year-old African Amer­i­can man who was a pas­sen­ger in a car stopped on the South­west Side of Chica­go. The offi­cers alleged­ly asked Duprey, What are you mon­keys doing around here?” before pulling him out of the car, punch­ing him in the face and arrest­ing him. Duprey’s fam­i­ly was unable to post bail, so he remained in jail for 10 days before the charges of resist­ing arrest and dis­obey­ing a police offi­cer were dis­missed. The city set­tled with Duprey for $30,000.

Accord­ing to the suit, which is one of sev­er­al that Tor­reya Hamilton’s firm has filed against Camp­bell, he often makes racist com­ments dur­ing his arrests, sug­gest­ing that he has con­trol over the peo­ple in the Eighth Dis­trict, and that non-Cau­casian peo­ple are not welcome.”

Anoth­er 2015 case named not only Sautkus and Camp­bell but Campbell’s wife, Emi­ly, and broth­er, Michael, who are also Chica­go police offi­cers. Jonathan Guz­man, an 18-year-old Lati­no man, accused the four offi­cers of repeat­ed harass­ment. Emi­ly Camp­bell alleged­ly threat­ened Guz­man with arrest in 2013 for pass­ing out fly­ers for his grandfather’s land­scap­ing busi­ness; Campbell’s rel­a­tive owned a com­pet­ing busi­ness. In anoth­er inci­dent, Sautkus and Sean Camp­bell alleged­ly pulled Guz­man over, plant­ed mar­i­jua­na on him, impound­ed his car and stole his iPhone. The case set­tled for $35,000.

Pri­or to these inci­dents, 16 com­plaints against Sean Camp­bell were closed because they lacked affi­davits, includ­ing alle­ga­tions of racial slurs, unnec­es­sary phys­i­cal con­tact and ille­gal arrest. Between 2000 and 2014, Camp­bell amassed 79 total com­plaints — among the high­est of any CPD offi­cer over that peri­od. Accord­ing to avail­able data, Camp­bell has been dis­ci­plined just once, for an off-duty DUI. Attempts to reach Camp­bell for com­ment through the CPD, FOP and city attor­neys were unsuccessful.

In March 2011, nine offi­cers raid­ed a South Side Chica­go apart­ment in search of a 30-year-old black man sus­pect­ed of pos­sess­ing crack cocaine. Police instead found Estel­la Walk­er and Ray Robin­son, a mid­dle-aged black cou­ple who had rent­ed the apart­ment the month pri­or and were watch­ing tele­vi­sion with their 24-year-old son, Ray Robin­son Jr., and a 39-year-old friend, George Gra­ham. Accord­ing to a law­suit against the nine offi­cers, police screamed obscen­i­ties at the con­fused res­i­dents, demand­ed to know where the drugs” were and tore the apart­ment apart. They alleged­ly spit in a cof­fee mak­er, uri­nat­ed on mail and assault­ed the three men, but failed to find any­thing ille­gal. Lat­er, the suit claims, a sergeant entered the apart­ment, looked around and told the offi­cers present, You fucked up anoth­er one.”

The case set­tled for $24,000 in May 2013. All nine offi­cers had pre­vi­ous com­plaints relat­ed to ille­gal search­es that were closed because they lacked affi­davits. They have col­lec­tive­ly been named in six suits that cost the city $170,000. The DOJ inves­ti­ga­tion found that, in most such law­suits, “[the Inde­pen­dent Police Review Authority]’s par­al­lel mis­con­duct inves­ti­ga­tion was closed for lack of an affi­davit,” mean­ing that offi­cers were nev­er dis­ci­plined, or even inves­ti­gat­ed, for the same inci­dent that sparked lawsuits.

In at least one case, CPD appar­ent­ly missed an oppor­tu­ni­ty to catch a sex­u­al preda­tor because of a closed mis­con­duct com­plaint. On Oct. 23, 2013, a 21-year-old woman left her uncle, off-duty police offi­cer Allen Hall, in the car with her 3‑year-old daugh­ter. When she returned, she noticed the tod­dler was now in the front seat and looked upset. Lat­er that day, the child told her moth­er that Hall had forced her to fon­dle him.

The moth­er report­ed Hall to police detec­tives. A crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion revealed that Hall had abused the moth­er, as well, when she was a teenag­er. Hall was arrest­ed and pled guilty to molest­ing both the moth­er and her daugh­ter. He was even­tu­al­ly sen­tenced to four years of pro­ba­tion, evad­ing prison. The CPD put him on admin­is­tra­tive duty until he retired in Octo­ber 2014.

CPD records reveal that the depart­ment had been warned about Hall in April 2013, when, dur­ing a pre-employ­ment poly­graph test for the Cook Coun­ty Sheriff’s Depart­ment, a job appli­cant dis­closed that Hall had sex­u­al­ly assault­ed her and at least two oth­er vic­tims years ear­li­er. (The vic­tims’ names were redact­ed from records pro­vid­ed to In These Times. Hall declined to com­ment through his attorney.)

These alle­ga­tions were report­ed imme­di­ate­ly to the Bureau of Inter­nal Affairs, trig­ger­ing a com­plaint file. But Hall was nev­er ques­tioned. The com­plaint was closed in August 2013 — because it lacked a signed affidavit.


For one long­time observ­er of the FOP, the union’s role in push­ing for restric­tions to the civil­ian com­plaint process is not sur­pris­ing. They have always fall­en on the side of sup­port for wrong­do­ing,” says Howard Saf­fold, a U.S. Army vet and retired police offi­cer who joined the CPD in 1965. I’m talk­ing about exces­sive force; I’m talk­ing about racism. That’s what they’ve stood for as a union.”

Saf­fold was an ear­ly mem­ber of the Afro-Amer­i­can Patrolmen’s League (AAPL), an orga­ni­za­tion formed in 1968 to orga­nize black offi­cers around issues like dis­crim­i­na­tion in hir­ing and pro­mo­tions. They also attempt­ed to address police mis­con­duct, imple­ment­ing CPD’s first com­plaint sys­tem. But when Chica­go police vot­ed to join the FOP in 1980, the union quick­ly posi­tioned itself against the racial jus­tice agen­da the AAPL was pioneering.

Accord­ing to his­to­ri­an Megan Marie Adams, this oppo­si­tion to civ­il rights was foun­da­tion­al for police unions. Until the mid-20th-cen­tu­ry, police in Chica­go were large­ly seen as ene­mies of orga­nized labor, Adams writes in her 2012 doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion. But by the end of the civ­il rights era, police had become con­ver­sant in the lan­guage of minor­i­ty rights and answered black pow­er crit­i­cisms of the police by iden­ti­fy­ing them­selves as a dis­crim­i­nat­ed against group.” This peri­od is also when police adopt­ed the blue pow­er” slo­gan, an antecedent of today’s Blue Lives Matter.”

Thanks in part to the FOP’s efforts, Illi­nois police even have their own bill of rights,” one of 14 such laws nation­wide. Passed in 1983, the state law enshrines many of the same pro­tec­tions con­tained in Chicago’s police union con­tract, includ­ing the affi­davit require­ment. That doesn’t negate Chica­go activists’ cam­paign to reform the FOP con­tract: If the city suc­cess­ful­ly nego­ti­ates changes to the agree­ment, those would trump state law under Chicago’s home rule” author­i­ty, accord­ing to Lind­say Miller, a staff attor­ney at the ACLU of Illi­nois. Efforts are also under­way to abol­ish the state’s affi­davit requirement.

In the mean­time, DeAn­ge­lo Bester says his group is plan­ning demon­stra­tions tar­get­ing the may­or, the City Coun­cil and the FOP. Orga­niz­ers have also been hold­ing teach-ins about the police union con­tract. Because the pro­vi­sions of the cur­rent agree­ment will stay in effect until a new one is rat­i­fied, Bester wor­ries that the union could stall negotiations.

They could be sit­ting around, say­ing, Why don’t we wait until the ener­gy around this dies down?’” Bester says. That’s the biggest challenge.”

Janaé Bon­su, BYP100’s pub­lic pol­i­cy chair, sees the con­tract fight as just one aspect of her organization’s long-term work to redi­rect pub­lic resources from polic­ing to com­mu­ni­ty-based ser­vices. She’s encour­aged by the sup­port from local alder­men but knows that activists still face an uphill battle.

If politi­cians feel that their jobs are at stake, the pow­er of that will sway their deci­sion or stance,” Bon­su says. I do trust the pow­er of direct pres­sure and direct action.”

This sto­ry was sup­port­ed by a grant from the Leonard C. Good­man Insti­tute for Inves­tiga­tive Reporting.

Sarah Cobar­ru­bias, Tim­na Axel, Jere­my Bor­den, Joseph Bulling­ton and Reuben Unrau also con­tributed reporting.

Adeshi­na Emmanuel is an edi­tor at Injus­tice Watch, a non­prof­it jour­nal­is­tic research orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to expos­ing insti­tu­tion­al fail­ures that obstruct jus­tice and equal­i­ty. He is a for­mer reporter for DNAin­fo Chica­go, the Chica­go Sun-Times, the Chica­go Reporter and Chalkbeat.
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