By at least one count, the City of Chicago has spent more than $700 million settling cases of police misconduct over the last decade. Chicago has attempted to address the human and financial cost of police abuse and misconduct a number of ways, including by expanding its body camera program, by remaking the office that investigates shootings, and by agreeing to negotiations for a consent decree with the Illinois Attorney General. However, one major component remains unaddressed — police union contracts — and it could seriously damage the efforts in other areas if a better, more transparent contract is left undone.

The Coalition for Police Contract Accountability (CPCA), a group comprised of community, civil rights, and policy organizations – including the Better Government Association’s policy team – gathered on Friday June 29, 2018, to reiterate its call for the mayor and aldermen to end contract provisions that enable a police code of silence. Three collective bargaining agreements govern the Chicago Police Department’s relationship with over 13,000 sworn officers. All three contracts expired more than a year ago and all include limitations on transparency and protections that inhibit accountable government.

There are 14 points within the contracts most in need of change that CPCA has recommended addressing:

  1. Eliminate the requirement of a sworn affidavit for investigating civilian complaints of misconduct. A sworn affidavit is a written statement of facts that must be signed and sworn to be true before misconduct is investigated.
  2. Allow for the filing and investigation of anonymous complaints.
  3. Prevent the disclosure of a complainant’s name prior to the interrogation of an accused officer.
  4. Remove the ban on offering rewards to officers that cooperate or provide information on ongoing investigations.
  5. Eliminate the 24-hour delay on officer statements in shooting cases and create a clearly outlined process to receive statements from all officers involved in a timely manner.
  6. Eliminate officer’s right to review and amend statements previously made to investigators.
  7. Allow past disciplinary records to be used in investigating and resolving present complaints.
  8. Eliminate the provision requiring the destruction of police misconduct records.
  9. Eliminate the need for the superintendent’s authorization to investigate complaints that are five years old or older.
  10. Remove constraints on how interrogators can ask questions.
  11. Specify that the information provided to officers prior to interrogations should be a general recitation of allegations.
  12. Allow for the disclosure of the identities of officers who are the subject of civilian complaints.
  13. Require officers to disclose secondary employment and any other pertinent information that may cause a conflict of interest in performing their duties as a sworn officer.
  14. Reduce years of seniority for officers who have been repeatedly recommended for suspension because of findings of complaints filed against them.

Chicago conducts its union negotiations behind closed doors and it is increasingly likely that the police contracts will end up in arbitration — conceivably pushing their finalization to after the 2019 election. However, Chicago residents can make sure they have their say by talking to their aldermen and demanding an update on the contract negotiation process before the spring election. While the negotiation process can and will take time, it is important to voice your concerns and make sure your representatives are committed to a police union contract that eliminates barriers to police accountability.