The City of Chicago is paying a heathy fee for not being able to learn from past mistakes. In the past ten years, the city has paid over half a billion dollars to settle police misconduct cases. Yet in the past ten years, there has been little to nothing done about the root causes of the problem. 2013 was a particularly bad year for Chicago, they paid over $87 million but had only budgets $27 million. Why a city would budget to cover a problem that shouldn’t exist if they held their officers to the same standard that McDonalds holds their cashers to is beyond me. It didn’t take long for the city to bust the budget. They settled a single case for $22.5 million in January of 2013. In August, another single case was settled for $12 million.
Chicago isn’t the only city with significant bills for police misconduct. Cities around the nation are faced with higher and higher settlements and awards for the police abusing their authority. And there is no excuse for it. Police have qualified immunity, which means they can not be sued for doing their job and doing it correctly. If they follow the law and their own policies, they would be immune from being sued. That they are getting sued as often as they are means that judges across the country are agreeing that police are not following the law and are not following their own policies. Municipalities are rapidly learning to settle cases once the veil of qualified immunity is pierced, juries are quite unforgiving once they are convinced that the police did wrong.
What is sad is that the common public hold the belief that it is a few bad cops that are making the whole force look bad. But when these so called good cops stand around and do nothing when the bad cops act up, they aren’t good cops. Then again, perhaps police don’t call out other police action because of the very real retaliation their brother in blue will perform against them. But that retaliatory attitude is tacitly supported by the system police have built for themselves, and it is quite a system.
Thanks to police unions and lobbyist, the laws and contracts of the police force is a powerful thing. In the millions Chicago paid out, most of the officers who performed the misconducts didn’t get any punishment. So much so, that not included in that $500 Million payout is the paid leave the officers got. Once the complaint was filed, the police department does its own internal investigation. It’s the police policing the police, and it doesn’t work. And often leads to weird situations such as both defending and going after the officer at the same time.
A few things need to change, or you are going to see this payout to private citizens continue. Police must stop policing themselves. An independent, outside agency should handle all the complaints that come in against officers and departments. Chiefs must be able to fire problem officers without interference from the union. And cops need to stop covering cops who do bad things. Until those three things are fixed, all the training in the world won’t stop the money bleeding out of departments around the country.