An expansive new version of the Citizens Police Data Project (CPDP) has been unveiled by south-side journalism production company the Invisible Institute. The database, created by independent journalist Jamie Kalven, was already the largest public repository of Chicago police misconduct records. Now it’s quadrupled in size to include more than 240,000 misconduct complaints made against more than 22,000 CPD officers going back to the late 1960s. The database has also been enhanced by the addition of Chicago Police Department use-of-force reports and officer commendation records.
Researchers at the institute are rolling out the new version of the database together with their own analysis of the data. They found that about one-fifth of the officers employed by CPD for a year or more between 2000 and 2016 had ten or more complaints against them, ranging from minor operational violations such as not wearing a seat belt while driving a squad car to accusations of severe beatings and shootings. Officers with ten or more complaints account for two-thirds of the records in CPDP’s new database.
As has long been reported, very few complaints against officers are sustained, and even fewer result in any sort of discipline. Institute researchers found that of the nearly 112,000 complaints filed against officers between 2000 and 2016, just over 2 percent were sustained and just over 1 percent ended in an officer being suspended or fired. Complaints were sustained 20 times more frequently when filed by other cops than when filed by civilians. And white civilians’ complaints were three times more likely to be sustained than black civilians’ complaints.
The majority of complaints originate on the south and west sides—something the previous version of the database already demonstrated. But now it’s possible to see the racial and socioeconomic context of the neighborhoods and police districts where allegations against officers are made. It’s also possible to see the department’s own records about officers’ use of force. Though CPDP aggregates tens of thousands of these records, data analyst Andrew Fan (who, full disclosure, assisted with data analysis for one Reader story last year) cautions that this “isn’t the last word” on officers’ use of force. Institute staff believe that both officers and the department as a whole underreport use-of-force incidents.
Fan’s analysis of the use-of-force reports showed that despite the steep decline in the city’s black population since 2000, black people have steadily remained about three-quarters of the subjects of officers’ use of force. Even in heavily white areas of town, black people are still disproportionately on the receiving end of officers’ use of force. Fan cited Jefferson Park on the far northwest side as an example. There less than 1 percent of the population is black, yet 14 percent of the subjects in officers’ use-of-force reports between 2013 and 2015 were black.
The graphics in the new database offer a chance to see where any particular officer falls in relation to the rest of the force when it comes to allegations by civilians, by fellow officers, and use-of-force reports. Officers who are frequently accused together can be analyzed as a group. It’s also possible to scroll through an officer’s entire career history and see his or her transfers between districts and department awards. Often, Fan notes, the same incident involving the same officer will result in a misconduct complaint from a civilian as well as a commendation from the department.
In its announcement of the database rollout the institute notes additional “alarming trends” gleaned from the database: More than 6 percent of officers were accused of incidents of “physical domestic abuse” between 2000 and 2016. The officers with such accusations on their records also had a 50 percent higher rate of use-of-force complaints than the rest of their peers.
“I think the motives of the Invisible Institute are perfectly transparent,” said Chicago police union spokesman Martin Preib when asked for comment about the new database. Preib declined to elaborate on what he thinks those motives are. A Chicago Police Department spokesman didn’t return a request for comment.