Study: Civilian complaints are a predictor of serious misconduct

Police departments in Chicago and around the country can better identify officers who are more likely to commit serious acts of misconduct, e.g., wrongful shootings. They can avoid costly civil lawsuits by paying attention to citizen complaints. That's the conclusion of a study by researchers at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University's Pritzker School of Law.

Researchers reviewed over 50,000 complaints from 2002 through 2014. They examined how many of the officers who had a significant number of complaints during the first half of that period engaged in serious misconduct in the second half. They estimate that if the Chicago Police Department (CPD) had taken the officers who were in the top 1 percent when it came to civilian complaints off the streets, the city would have saved over $6 million from 2009 through 2014.

In one high-profile case, this predictive tool might have saved the city more than $5 million -- and, more importantly, a life. The police officer who shot a Chicago teen to death four years ago had received at least 20 complaints from civilians before the fatal shooting. His actions eventually resulted in a first-degree murder charge -- but not until a year later when video of the incident went public. Based on the terms of the study, the number of complaints against the officer prior to the night in 2014 when he encountered the 17-year-old teen would have placed him in the upper 3 percent.

In addition to looking at the total number of complaints against officers, researchers say the department could also review how many internal investigations were conducted on officers and how often they were assigned to desk duties. All of these factors could create an early warning system that can let officials know they need to intervene.

It might be reassuring to learn that, according to the study, 90 percent of CPD officers had only a few complaints in their files or none at all. However, if you or a loved was the victim of police misconduct or your rights were violated, experienced police misconduct attorneys can help you go up against the CPD or other law enforcement agencies and the city to seek the justice and compensation you deserve.

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