Reform group calls for police contract changes

Members of a watchdog group called for changes to the city's police contract today, saying the existing agreement makes it difficult to punish bad cops.

Representatives of the Chicago Coalition for Police Accountability testified at a meeting of City Councils's police and fire committee that the contract requires premature destruction of police disciplinary records.

They also criticized the agreement because it forbids the use of an officer's past disciplinary record as evidence during misconduct investigations, and bars authorities from looking into anonymous complaints against police.

Alderman Isaac Carothers (D-29) invited coalition members to testify, saying that suggestions from concerned community groups "are taken very seriously."

The contract between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police expired in June 2007 and has not been replaced by a new one. The city and the police union are in negotiations.

Mark Donahue, president of the FOP, says those talks are too far along to bring up the new issues raised by the coalition.

"Negotiations have been underway since last May. It's a little late in the game to be bringing up these kinds of changes now," he says.

Currently, most disciplinary records to be destroyed within five to seven years after the date of the complaint.

The coalition wants the department to keep disciplinary records for the entirety of an officer's employment, plus an additional ten years.

These records can help prove patterns of misconduct, which in turn can shed light on credibility disputes between officers and civilians, says Wendy Park, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, one of the members of the Coalition.

The contract, along with city and state law, prevent authorities from investigating anonymous complaints against police, unless they  involve a criminal violation.

Park says the coalition is seeking changes in those laws, as well as the contract.

Coalition members also testified against a contract provision that shields the identity of officers under investigation unless the complaint against them is sustained.

Making the identities of those officers available, Park says, would allow the public to assess whether officers are repeatedly charged with misconduct but never disciplined.