Graduate School of Social Sciences Research Master Social Science
“A Model for The Nation? Utilisation and Limitations of Procedural Justice in the Chicago Police Accountability System”
Supervisor: Dr Pamela Prickett Second Reader: Dr Erella Grassiani
Callum Urquhart SN: 13061933
Purpose: Procedural justice is increasingly being adopted by police departments to increase public trust and mend community relations. This study aims to examine the adoption of procedural justice principles in an adjacent setting, police oversight agencies, as in many cities these agencies must foster trust in themselves as well as the police. This research examines how the trust rebuilding goals of police oversight are being realised.
Design: This study is based on semi-structured interviews carried out between late 2021 and early 2022 with individuals in leadership positions across police accountability agencies in Chicago. Analysis of publicly available documents and public meeting minutes augmented the analysis. Chicago was chosen as the site for this study due to the unparalleled
complexity of its accountability system which currently consists of 4 discrete agencies.
Findings: The Chicago oversight system is highly punitive and generally aims to build community trust via successful investigations and punishments for misconduct. Yet, many participants were aware of the greater theoretical utility of procedural justice tenets to improve public trust. There are tensions and inefficiencies throughout the oversight system Chicago which detract from the otherwise effective use of procedural justice.
Conclusion: Chicago’s problems serve as a case study for how iterative reform cycles and reactionary politics can hamper police accountability efforts.
Keywords: Police accountability; civilian oversight; procedural justice; police misconduct
3 List of Abbreviations
COPA: Civilian Office of Police Accountability CPB: Chicago Police Board
CPD: Chicago Police Department BIA: Bureau of Internal Affairs OIG: Office of Inspector General
4 Table of Contents
Literature Review……… 7
5 1. Introduction
In the United States, renewed interest in civilian oversight of policing is frequently a direct response to a significant police misconduct scandal. Once a particularly egregious or visible case of police misconduct captures the public attention, the weaknesses of existing accountability frameworks are often exposed and demands for reform follow. A lack of trust in police departments to adequately punish and prevent misconduct has led to an increasing number of jurisdictions implementing civilian oversight measures to achieve fully accessible, independent, and effective accountability. Civilian oversight denotes measures which integrate non-police into the work of police accountability, a matter which is handled internally within police departments by default.
Civilian oversight implementations in the United States typically share the following goals: 1.
Improving public trust; 2. Ensuring accessible complaint processes; 3. Promoting thorough, fair investigations; 4. Increasing transparency; 5. Deterring police misconduct (De Angelis et al, 2016: 8). Ultimately, civilian oversight seeks to limit and deter police misconduct by improving the fairness and thoroughness of investigations of misconduct complaints, as well as the enforcement of rules and disciplinary actions (Hope, 2021: 11).
Each implementation has its own political, social, and cultural context that influences its organisational development and structure (De Angelis et al, 2016: 7). Chicago’s civilian oversight system has evolved concurrently with the Chicago Police Department’s misconduct scandals. For over 60 years, Chicago has repeatedly tried and failed to establish a robust and effective accountability system to improve public trust in policing. The Chicago Police Department suffers a trust deficit, but perhaps more alarmingly, so does the accountability system itself due to its historical inability to prevent police misconduct. Indeed, a 2018 report commissioned by the Illinois Attorney General found that: “Generally, there was a belief that officers who engage in misconduct receive little to no discipline at all”, and that: “many participants did not believe that current disciplinary measures are a deterrent to bad police
6 behaviour…these weak disciplinary measures perpetuate a sense that police can do anything with impunity” (Hoereth & Ramos, 2018: 17).
Before improving public trust in policing, Chicago’s oversight system must build trust in itself.
Oversight systems need citizens’ trust to function properly, as this affects the propensity of people to file complaints or cooperate with investigations, for example. In choosing to trust a justice institution such as an oversight agency, citizens evaluate the likelihood of being harmed based on direct and indirect past experiences (Bradford et al., 2017, 642). As accountability measures have so frequently failed in Chicago, citizens are appropriately distrustful that complaints will be investigated properly, and that sufficient discipline will be imposed to bring justice to complainants and deter future misconduct.
Procedural justice is a potential framework to improve the relationship between Chicago’s citizens and its oversight system. In summary, procedural justice is a lens for improving interactions between authorities and subjects to increase satisfaction and encourage future productive relationships. It shifts focus from what material ends justice processes achieve for stakeholders to instead call attention to the perceived fairness of decision-making procedures and the perceived treatment individuals receive at the hands of decision-makers (Tyler, 1990).
Not only is the value of procedural justice found to be consistent across demographics (Tyler, 1994; 2000), but it is also consistently found to be the greatest predictor of satisfaction in justice processes (Walters & Bolger, 2019).
This study examines the implementation of procedural justice in the Chicago civilian oversight system as a means to improve public perception and the performance of oversight. Using data gathered from interviews with oversight practitioners, public meeting minutes, and official reports, this study finds that although tenets of procedural justice are being practised throughout the accountability system, there are notable limiting factors. This study elaborates on these factors and discusses potential remedies that, if enacted, would advance the stated goal to “build trust in civilian oversight” (COPA, 2016)
7 2. Literature Review
2.1 Civilian Oversight History
Early attempts to combat police misconduct in the United States aimed to modernise law enforcement which was unprofessional and lawless (Ferdik et al, 2013; Haller, 1976; Walker, 1977). The Wickersham Commission (1931), President’s Commission of Civil Rights (Wilson et al, 1947), and the U.S Civil Rights Commission (Hannah et al, 1961) congruently concluded that police brutality was a serious and pervasive problem throughout the country. Whilst efforts to professionalise policing were largely successful, improvements to accountability structures did not materialise (Walker, 2001).
The Wickersham Commission (1931: 192) recommended that ‘some disinterested agency’ be established regionally to assist people with complaints against the police and so too the Los Angeles Bar Association proposed involving non-sworn citizens in the complaints process in 1928 (Walker, 2001). These recommendations would not be realised until 1948 with the establishment of the first civilian oversight agency in the United States, a civilian review board1 for the Washington D.C metropolitan police (Walker, 2001). The agency survived until the mid- 1990s albeit continuously struggling with chronic underfunding and political hostility (Ferdik et al, 2013). Philadelphia established the first substantial oversight agency in 1958 in conjunction with the ACLU, the Philadelphia Police Advisory Board. The board would meet its demise in 1969 from an overwhelming caseload, financial instability, and lack of political support (Walker, 2001).
In 1977, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were accused of: theft of a Parti Québécois membership list; 400 warrantless break-ins; widespread monitoring of election candidates; theft of dynamite; and use of forged documents. The ensuing Royal Commission recommended the establishment of a civilian-staffed oversight agency, the Office of the Public
1 Several classifications for civilian oversight functions have been developed (De Angelis, 2016), this study follows Fairley’s (2020) typology of 7 functions that a civilian oversight agency can perform:
investigative, review, audit, adjudicative, appeals, supervisory, and advisory (see appendix A).
8 Complaints Commissioner was subsequently founded in 1984 in Ontario. Ultimately, unpopular anti-oversight campaigns from the Toronto Police Association in conjunction with the high-profile shooting of two black men by Toronto police in 1988 would prompt the expansion and standardisation of civilian oversight in the province (Watt, 1991).
The pattern of scandal to reform continues in Australia where attention toward oversight incrementally increased with a sequence of 61 royal commissions on police corruption and criminality, each recommending oversight agencies be established (Beckley, 2013). By 1985 every Australian police service was subject to civilian oversight of some kind (Lewis &
Prenzler, 1999). However, many of these were dissolved following severe conflict with police unions and management such as Victoria’s Police Complaints Commission in 1986 and Queensland’s Police Complaints Tribunal in 1990 (ibid).
In England, the 1976 introduction of a Police Complaints Board was an unusual case where public perception of the police was generally positive and there had not been a flashpoint incident. However, race relations remained central to the formation of this civilian oversight agency, as it was established amidst a broad reform effort to eliminate racial discrimination in government services and institutions (Terrill, 1983). Public faith in the board rapidly decreased throughout the early 1980s owing to a lack of investigative powers and several high-profile incidents of police brutality such as the 1984 Battle of Orgreave where riot police brutalised striking miners and later committed perjury in attempting to justify their aggression (Conn, 2016). A special sub-committee reported that the complaints board was so constrained by its limited supervisory powers that it was entirely deferential to the police department, thereby condemning it to be replaced the following year (Moores et al, 1984).
Attempts to establish civilian oversight in the English-speaking world in the 20th century were consistently hamstrung by a lack of sufficient political support to resist the policing unions and administrations. Whilst demand for oversight was consistently high amongst minority and working-class demographics owing to ongoing police misconduct (Wilson & Buckler, 2010),
9 insufficient political will to implement financed, independent, and powerful civilian-led solutions delayed meaningful reforms until another egregious brutality incident forced action.
2.2 Chicago’s History
Chicago’s history of police oversight reforms is a mirror image of the most critical episodes of police misconduct in the city and stretches back as far as the professionalisation of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) following the 1959 ‘Summerdale Scandal’ (Hoffman &
Kroemer, 2021). To circumvent hiring restrictions set by the city of Chicago, The Chicago Police Board (CPB) was established to hire the new superintendent. The CPB comprised of 5 civilians who, in addition to the responsibility to select candidates for superintendent, were empowered to adjudicate serious misconduct cases and provide broad-level policy recommendations to the CPD.
In the 1960s, complaints made against the police were received and investigated by the CPD.
Lack of accountability for rampant misconduct in conjunction with the civil rights movement and flashpoint episodes such as the 1968 Democratic Convention and the murder of Fred Hampton created momentum for reform which eventually culminated in the Office of Professional Standards being established in 1974. This investigative organisation was in place for approximately 33 years, during which time the agency amassed strong criticism of its opacity, lack of completed investigations, and perceived bias towards the CPD (de Guzman, 2008: 119). The agency was dissolved in 2007 after a mass outcry following the release of video showing officer Anthony Abbate beating a female bartender (Grimm, 2022).
The successor agency, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) constituted a rebranding effort, carrying over nearly all the staff to a new office with a similar mandate to intake and investigate complaints against the CPD. Little was done to address the structural shortcomings of OPS regarding transparency, investigative integrity, and CPD influence. IPRA would last a mere 9 years until CPD officer Jason van Dyke fatally shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Police statements attested that McDonald was shot in self-defence as he was
10 waving a knife and threatening the responding officers. After a 13-month wait, released video footage showed van Dyke shooting the black teenager in the back without provocation and shooting a further 15 rounds as McDonald lay on the ground (Police Accountability Task Force, 2016). Not only was the shooting verifiably indefensible, but a police cover-up was exposed, and the flaws of the accountability system were once again laid bare. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) would be established in 2016 to take on the investigative mantle from IPRA. The new agency received an expanded jurisdiction, a mandatory evidence publication policy, an increased budget, and an apparently renewed focus on providing impartial and transparent oversight.
In addition to the establishment of COPA, the Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) established its Public Safety section in 2016 to provide high-level supervision and auditing to the city’s growing public safety and police accountability apparatus.
2.3 Present-day accountability system
The Chicago police accountability system in 2021 is comprised of 4 core agencies, the largest of which is COPA with approximately 160 staff and a $20.5m budget (COPA, 2021). COPA is the youngest, largest, and therefore the most public-facing oversight entity and intakes the vast majority of total complaints made against the police. The agency has the authority to retain and investigate complaints of the following: bias-based verbal abuse, coercion, death or serious bodily injury in custody, domestic violence, excessive force, improper search and seizure, firearm discharge, sexual misconduct, taser discharge that results in death or serious bodily injury, pattern or practices of misconduct, and unlawful denial of access to counsel. Of the 5,145 complaints received by COPA in 2021, 1,021 (20%) were retained for investigation.
COPA personnel conduct investigations similar to that of police, they gather evidence, interview witnesses and involved individuals, and analyse forensics. Completed investigations can be designated the following results: sustained, not sustained, unfounded, or exonerated.
For sustained findings, COPA can recommend suspension, termination, or additional training all to be enforced by the CPD superintendent. If the superintendent disagrees with COPA’s
11 findings or recommendations, or if the recommendation is a termination or suspension of >365 days, the case is passed to the Chicago Police Board (CPB) for adjudication.
The CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA) can also intake complaints and retains those within investigative jurisdiction on matters of professional misconduct: criminal misconduct, operational violations, theft of money or property, planting of drugs, substance abuse, residency violations, and medical roll abuse. The BIA consists of approximately 90 staff and publishes quarterly summative reports and basic case summaries upon completion. In 2021, BIA received 4,125 complaints to investigate from COPA. Similar to COPA, cases sustained with significant discipline are put before the CPB for adjudication.
The Public Safety section of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) has wide-ranging powers over the entire oversight system. The primary function of the OIG within the accountability framework is to audit and oversee the oversight system. The scope of the OIG is broad as the department acts as a watchdog for the other agencies, producing reports on inefficiencies or areas to improve. Furthermore, the OIG can also receive complaints of police misconduct at which point it can either pass the case to the relevant investigative agency or retain the complaint to investigate it in-house. This generally occurs where complaints point to a larger systemic issue of interest to the OIG. The OIG Deputy for Public Safety has the discretion of what to investigate as the department’s jurisdiction encompasses all aspects of the oversight system as well as the police department directly. Although COPA and the CPB have some recommendary powers over CPD policy, the OIG has some authority to compel the CPD to adopt its recommendations.
The Chicago Police Board (CPB) is typically comprised of 9 individuals who work part-time for the board adjudicating cases passed to them from the investigative agencies. The CPB hears cases in a court-style format, with representatives of the CPD superintendent bringing charges against the defending officer. A hearing officer manages the sessions, evidence is admitted, testimonies and arguments are heard, and the board members deliberate and pass a judgement to uphold, amend, or dismiss the disciplinary recommendations.
12 As a result of a 2017 federal investigation into civil rights abuses by the Chicago Police Department and the mayor-ordered Police Accountability Task Force report (2016), a ‘consent decree’ between the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and the City of Chicago was approved by a federal judge in 2019. The consent decree mandates a set of comprehensive reforms to be implemented throughout the police department and accountability system to ensure future constitutional and safe policing, as well as robust accountability for wrongdoing. All oversight agencies are compelled to comply with the consent decree and periodically demonstrate progress towards the complete implementation of its policies.
2.4 Procedural Justice Theory
As mentioned, procedural justice refers to the perceived fairness of decision-making procedures and the perceived treatment of individuals by authorities. In addition to procedural justice being consistently highly valued across demographics (Tyler, 1994), a meta-analysis of 64 previous studies performed by Walters & Bolger (2019) found the following features of procedural justice to be consistent across contexts and demographics: perception of fairness, respect, neutrality, high-quality decision making, and responsiveness.
Procedural justice is argued to be so effective in improving citizens’ perceptions of authorities due to its strong association with perceptions of legitimacy (Holliday & Wagstaff, 2021: 5).
Legitimacy is the belief in one’s obligation to obey the law and a general sense of trust in the legal system and its principal agents (Walters & Bolger, 2019: 345). Authorities which enjoy high legitimacy perceptions from subjects are afforded greater cooperation and compliance beyond what is merely enforceable through the law or violence, as authorities are evaluated to be rightfully powerful and unlikely to be abusive (Kochel et al, 2013). Legal authorities benefit from diffuse legitimacy perceptions as more citizens voluntarily complying with the law reduces strain on institutional resources, for example, because citizens are more likely to cooperate in legal processes through reporting crimes or volunteering information (Tyler, 1990). For this study, the trust aspect of legitimacy is given greater attention compared to obligation beliefs as it is more directly affectable through the actions of authorities, however,
13 the following literature studying the relationship between procedural justice and trust often subsumes trust into the broader category of legitimacy.
2.5 Procedural Justice and Police legitimacy
Studies conducted in the United States (Fine et al, 2017, Reisig et al, 2011), Australia (Hinds
& Murphy, 2007), and the UK (Jackson, 2012) found that satisfaction and the perceived quality of interactions with police officers were improved alongside an increased emphasis on procedurally just treatment. Walters & Bolger’s (2019) meta-analysis of studies published between 1990 and 2018 from around the world found widespread support for this model of a procedural justice-legitimacy-compliance relationship wherein fair and respectful treatment encourages the view of authorities as legitimate, thereby increasing their willingness to cooperate and comply with the law and its agents. Further literature reviews conducted by Donner et al (2015) and Mazerolle et al (2013) drew correlations which corroborate the paths found by Walters & Bolger.
Whilst these studies are consistent with an extensive body of literature drawing similar conclusions for the anglosphere (Fine et al, 2017; 2018) and Western Europe (Beijersbergen et al, 2016; Fontaine et al, 2016; Van Damme & Pauwels, 2016), Tankebe (2009) and Bradford et al (2014) respectively found that a Ghanaian and South African sample placed greater emphasis on police performance than fair treatment when evaluating the police. This suggests that historically harmed groups or communities in more precarious living conditions may “focus more on instrumental concerns than procedural issues” (Wolfe et al, 2016: 258). This is pertinent for the US context as black, Latino, and low-income demographics are disproportionately victimised by police misconduct.
However, using survey and census data, Gau et al (2012) found that although neighbourhood disadvantage did marginally mediate the relationship between procedural justice and legitimacy as did race, procedural justice remained the strongest predictor of police legitimacy.
Similarly, a 546-participant experiment from Johnson et al (2017) drew the same conclusion,
14 that race did alter the relationship between procedural justice and perceptions of the police, but ultimately procedural justice remained the strongest predictor of police legitimacy across demographics. Procedural justice, therefore, remains the most effective way to improve relations between authorities and civilians, despite its precise predictive power being altered by contextual and demographic variables.
Whilst the body of literature demonstrating the virtue of procedural justice regarding police legitimacy is vast (Murphy et al, 2009; Reisig & Lloyd, 2009; Solomon, 2019; Sunshine & Tyler, 2003; Tyler & Huo, 2002), there is comparatively very little by way of literature examining procedural justice in the civilian oversight context. This is important firstly because civilian oversight is ostensibly the primary means to improve police-community relations and prevent misconduct, yet in contexts such as Chicago, the oversight system itself is suffering a lack of public trust. Secondly, citizens generally interact with the state infrequently and generalise those interactions to form wider opinions of the justice system and state (PytlikZillig &
Kimbrough, 2015; You, 2017). As the visibility of civilian oversight increases in cities like Chicago, understanding the role of procedural justice in oversight could have implications for improving satisfaction in other institutions lacking in public trust (Tyler & Huo, 2002: 136).
Whilst the use of procedural justice in policing is well researched, studying the concept in adjacent contexts strengthens our understanding of the concept itself, but also the relationships between state institutions and their subjects generally.
2.6 Oversight and Procedural Justice
The essence of civilian oversight is to accomplish the aforementioned common goals:
improving public trust; ensuring accessible complaint processes; promoting fair & thorough investigations; increasing transparency; and deterring police misconduct in order to:
“…reach an impact that is deterrence-based by preventing or limiting police misconduct and improving the fairness and thoroughness of investigations of complaints of such misconduct
15 and the resultant recommendations for remedies such as the enforcement of rules and disciplinary actions” (Hope, 2021: 11)
Civilian oversight systems stand to gain significantly from procedural justice implementations.
Whilst police and courts can compel citizens through legal authority or violence, police accountability practitioners rely on voluntary cooperation from civilians to file complaints or provide witness accounts, a difficulty when trust in oversight is low. Similarly, accountability efforts are often hampered by a lack of cooperation from the police as whistleblowing is disincentivised by codes of silence and what powers oversight agencies have are often restricted by strong police department collective bargaining agreements (Rushin, 2018a;
Skolnick, 2005). Increasing the legitimacy of civilian oversight agencies through procedural justice stands to potentially increase cooperation and compliance of citizens and officers alike as oversight agencies can be trusted to be fair, transparent, and effective in investigating complaints and imposing discipline.
A further benefit that procedural justice could bring to civilian oversight is that satisfaction in the police accountability process is presently reflective of the system’s ability to deliver discipline for misconduct incidents, as this is the only tool at its disposal to provide justice for victims and deter misconduct. Successfully disciplining an officer of misconduct is not only time-consuming, but often depends on factors beyond a single oversight agency’s control, such as the aforementioned collective bargaining agreements (Rushin, 2018b). Prioritising the point of interaction between oversight representatives and civilians may be a more actionable method to increase satisfaction than through discipline alone. If civilians feel as though they have been treated fairly and have had a role in the decision-making process, they may be more positive about the oversight system regardless of if the defendant is punished. Indeed, Kerstetter & Rasinksi (1994) studied public perceptions of the Minneapolis police internal affairs unit in the 1980s and found that implementing a civilian-staffed review board to oversee the department improved perceptions of the complaints process. The authors argued this was reflective of procedural justice, specifically the feeling that civilians had a voice in the handling
16 of complaints, although the effect was proportional to the view that the review panel was deemed effective. Similarly, De Angelis (2009) examined the implementation of a civilian review board in a medium-sized city and reported a moderate improvement in satisfaction in the complaints process as a facet of increasing feelings amongst the public that the review board was a better avenue for civilian involvement.
The scarcity of relevant previous studies may be due to the small number of major US cities with comparably extensive oversight systems as exists in Chicago. This present study aims to contribute to this intersection of civilian oversight and procedural justice literatures by examining how procedural justice is being implemented and practised in Chicago civilian oversight, and also seeks to uncover potential inhibiting factors to further utilisation.
17 3. Methodology
The present study reports on procedural justice in the Chicago civilian oversight system as a means to increase satisfaction, cooperation, and compliance from civilians and police officers.
This study was originally intended to be an ethnography within a single agency observing the street-level implementation of procedural justice principles, however, this was abandoned due to the emergence of the Delta covid-19 variant and unpredictable restrictions. The present methodology was subsequently designed to be actionable despite pandemic-related limitations. The study sought to understand procedural justice implementation in civilian oversight according to the following sub-questions:
1) How is procedural justice currently practised throughout the Chicago civilian oversight system?
2) How is further utilisation and distribution of procedural justice to complainants and police officers inhibited?
To answer the research questions, interviews with oversight practitioners and document analysis were performed. Interviews were conducted with individuals that were either presently or recently employed in positions of leadership within the Chicago oversight system.
7 participants were recruited for interviews which were audio-recorded and transcribed for analysis. 10 interview sessions were held, each lasting approximately 45 minutes. Interview sessions were held remotely via Zoom between September 2021 and January 2022.
Publicly available documents published by oversight agencies or by adjacent organisations with relevance to Chicago police accountability were collected and analysed for key themes regarding the role of procedural justice in oversight. Examples of reports utilised in this study include agencies’ summary reports, case evidence and reports, federal investigation reports, press releases, legislation, job listings, and media reports. Additionally, minutes from 12
18 monthly public meetings conducted by the Chicago Police Board were collected and analysed to further augment the analysis.
Procedural justice was operationalised according to Tyler (1990) into the following constituent elements which comprised the framework for data collection:
• Authorities’ motivation: the self-described framing of a practitioner’s role and relationship to complainants and/or accused officers, and the presence of genuine desire to distribute justice fairly for involved parties.
• Honesty: the extent to which realistic expectations and accurate explanations concerning the justice process are conferred by practitioners to stakeholders
• Bias: equal treatment afforded to complainants and officers regardless of personal characteristics and lack of vested interest in the outcomes of cases.
• Ethicality: interacting with complainants and officers in courteously and respectfully, showing concern for their rights.
• Decision quality: the extent to which outcomes are decided according to evidence saturation and proper analysis transparently (to both the public and stakeholders)
• Representation: presence and communication thereof, opportunities for complainants and accused officers to have their voices heard at plural points in the process
• Correctability: presence and communication of opportunities to correct errors throughout and after the complaint process.
3.2 Interview Sample
As described previously, there are 4 core oversight agencies, the investigative Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) and Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA), the adjudicative Chicago Police Board (CPB), and the auditing public safety section of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Whilst the BIA is not a civilian oversight agency by virtue of being located within the Chicago Police Department (CPD), it is inexorably included in this study due to its
19 complementary position to COPA as an investigative agency and its significant jurisdiction accounting for ~80% of total complaints registered in Chicago.
Practitioners were selected as the target population for this study due to their direct role in translating policy into practice. Understanding variations between policy-as-wrote and as practised illuminates the true functioning of organisations beyond the text of rules and regulations which is crucial in the police accountability context where the stakes are high for complainants and accused officers alike. The addition of interviews to this study eschews the exclusive analysis of published materials which is common in legal scholarship and illuminates the experiences, motivations, and attitudes of those working within complex bureaucracies and organisations (Fitz-Gibbon, 2014; Flynn & Fitz-Gibbon, 2011). Furthermore, given the proclivity of social scientists to study the effects of hierarchies and structures on those subject to it, centring practitioners offers a complementary but opposite perspective, revealing what is usually obfuscated by closed doors, jargon, and technicalities (Bibas, 2006).
Whilst this study was originally intended to understand the roles and perceptions of low-level staff in civilian oversight agencies, those in leadership positions were ultimately pursued due to their easier accessibility given the constraints of the covid-19 pandemic. Interviewing leadership is specifically beneficial as they are able to speak to the everyday operation of their department as well as pass judgement on the broader system. This study benefits from the requisite experience of leadership, their broad understanding of police accountability, and from their role necessarily involving relationship management with other agencies, thereby providing an eclectic insight into usually opaque structures. What is not achieved, however, is a truly granular understanding of low-level interactions with stakeholders, beyond what participants may learn from subordinates or have experienced themselves in prior positions.
The sampling frame was constructed from publicly available information detailing the leadership of each respective oversight agency in Chicago. For participants who were unreachable from public information, snowball sampling was attempted via other participants with the aim of recruiting from every agency. Participants represented COPA, CPB, and the
20 OIG, however, BIA representatives responded consistently with expectations and could not be reached by cold calling nor referral. Recruited participants were either actively employed in leadership positions in oversight or had previously been employed within the prior 5 years to the study period.
Participants were informed that their responses would be on-record but entirely anonymised, but that the city would be named. Due to the small population and sample, further explication of participant characteristics cannot be provided. Anonymity and secure storage of data are particularly crucial given the reputation of Chicago politics and the tense nature of police accountability work (Goldthwaite, 2019; NBCChicago.com, 2021; Speilman, 2019).
Recorded interview sessions were transcribed and transferred into the qualitative analysis software Atlas.ti along with CPB public meeting transcripts and amassed documents.
Following an abductive approach, transcripts and documents were analysed using thematic analysis as defined by Braun & Clarke (2006). Abductive analysis enables constant referral and comparisons to be made between the dataset and theoretical literature, ideal for the present study which aims to extract themes relating to concepts from procedural justice theory (Venables & Healy, 2019). Transcriptions were made for each interview session before the following session enabling increasing familiarity with the dataset throughout the data collection period. During data collection, minor tweaks were made to the interview guide for instrumental purposes to better run subsequent sessions, but also to follow up on select points which had emerged. However, the core content of the interview guide was unchanged.
Upon completing the data collection phase, the dataset was analysed in sum with memos which were also accrued throughout the fieldwork period to record preliminary avenues for analysis. Initial codes were generated according to interesting features of the data across the entire dataset over several pass-throughs. Codes were then collated into themes according to noteworthy observations inferred from a familiarity with procedural justice literature and in
21 reflection of the research questions (Coffey & Atkinson, 2006). Visually mapping the codes constituting the preliminary themes revealed redundant or incoherent analysis, and constant comparison to procedural justice literature further refined the analysis into a set of robust and internally valid themes to discuss.
22 4. Findings
This study examines the use of procedural justice in the Chicagoan civilian oversight system.
Participants were asked to comment on the use of the aforementioned elements of procedural justice, the extent to which these elements exist in policy and are actively utilised, and what affects their ability to do so. Analysis of published materials and CPB public meetings supplemented the interview analysis. Respondents described the treatment of complainants and officers in the oversight system as generally positive with some noteworthy reservations.
From the operationalised elements of procedural justice previously explained, authorities’
motivations, respectful treatment, justified actions, and giving voice emerged as distinct themes. Key inhibiting factors which emerged were the complexity of oversight, interagency inefficiency, broken accountability links, and the deterrence ideology.
4.1 Procedural Justice in Chicago Civilian Oversight 4.1.1 Authorities’ motivations
Demonstrating a genuine desire to act appropriately and in good faith is a key concern for justice authorities according to procedural justice literature. Motivational inferences allow subjects to judge the disposition of the authority and predict their likely future behaviour (Heider, 1958; Tyler, 1990: 164). Participants reported diverse motivations for becoming involved in police oversight. Most participants had a background in adjacent fields which led to being exposed to police misconduct or criminal justice inequalities generally, leading them to want to improve those systems:
“I saw things happen in investigations of cases which weren’t fair, which weren’t right, [later] I had an opportunity to take some of what I knew and some of what I had seen up close about the pragmatic workings of the police department and channel that into work which would have kind of a broader impact”
“One of the reasons that I got involved in the first place because it’s a complicated and interesting policy issue, but it also affects particularly black and brown people and indigenous people in the United States”
Although the majority of participants articulated their path to working in oversight as reflective of their desire to help victimised communities and end misconduct, there were some deviations from this trend. One participant cited growing up in a police family and being inspired to ‘protect the integrity’ of good policing.
However, similarly to other participants, the murder of Laquan McDonald amongst others significantly changed the way this participant thought about police misconduct. Afterwards, their goal changed to improving policing through improving civilian oversight rather than protecting the remaining integrity of policing:
“At around seven years [in another job], we had Laquan McDonald, we had Freddie Gray, we had Michael Brown and I felt in my current capacity, I was not able to protect the integrity of this profession”
Whilst this approach differs from the other accounts as it centres the police rather than victims, they too are motivated by reducing misconduct. Whilst this articulation may be a harder sell for civilians who are naturally sceptical of oversight due to the decades of deficiency, it would presumably be easier for officers to understand and trust. All participants ultimately shared the common goals of police oversight to bring justice to victims and prevent police misconduct, albeit in varying ways. Expressing genuine desires to fulfil the goals of oversight is a necessity to reduce pre-emptive distrust or cynicism both in the police and communities which expect to be disappointed given the troubled history of oversight in Chicago.
24 4.1.2 Respectful Treatment
In practice, treating people with respect in this context firstly means treating them in socially and legally normative ways, i.e., with politeness and with regard for their rights. Secondly, respectful treatment includes acting with honesty, thereby ensuring that subjects can judge for themselves whether to cooperate and expect not to be harmed (Thibaut & Walker, 1975).
Participants were acutely aware of the utility of respectful treatment as an effective way to garner trust and therefore satisfaction, cooperation, and compliance from civilians and officers alike. Participants reported that in their experience and to the best of their knowledge, oversight staff act with courtesy to complainants:
“It has to be done with courtesy and I think the investigators were generally pretty good at that… I never heard a lot of complaints that investigators were treating people with disrespect or unfairly at all”
Although staff are indeed trained to act with courtesy to best maximise the chances of successful and procedurally just interviews, it is not entirely successful, and interactions can transpire in a wide range of different ways:
“[complainant interviews ranged from] ‘Please help me to get to the bottom of what happened. I feel aggrieved’. Others are, ‘I just wanna know if he was allowed to do that. And if he wasn't allowed to do that, I think he should be disciplined’ to, ‘this is a joke. You're a joke and your whole agency is a joke’”
Whilst treating people with politeness may moderate some vitriol and give comfort to some complainants, others are still highly suspicious of civilian oversight given the ongoing prevalence of police misconduct. Ultimately, polite interpersonal treatment is not the silver bullet to undoing generations of trauma, however, it is still effective and worth prioritising.
25 Participants recognised that negative responses from complainants to their best efforts in this area resulted from a diffuse lack of trust in the oversight system which cannot be fixed with politeness alone.
Participants similarly recognised that acting with honesty and transparency is an effective route to building trust in oversight as people can set appropriate expectations and therefore not be let down. Individuals working with complainants or involved officers cannot afford to over-promise results as they ultimately have little impact on achieving them, under-promising is similarly detrimental due to the long periods that investigations take before concluding:
“I think that we answer the phone when people call us, and we meet with people, and we tell them what we can tell them. If it’s confidential information and we can't tell them, then we tell them that. We try to do what we say we’re gonna do, when we say we’re gonna do it, none of this is rocket science and it’s not that we never screw it up but as I say, both the heartbreak and the hope lies in the fact that alone lands as pretty refreshing for people”
By communicating the abilities and limitations of oversight at each step with the complainant or officer, expectations are set realistically. In addition to communication in this way, agencies are obliged to publish vast amounts of information for the public. For broader society, this provides additional transparency and allows the oversight agencies to operate on a more equal footing with civilians as they have access to mostly the same information. This practice of transparency also strengthens the robustness of decisions in oversight, as will be discussed in the following section.
4.1.3 Sound, legitimate, justified actions
For decisions and actions to voluntarily be deemed acceptable by subjects they must be reached with thorough and unbiased processes. In practice, this entails making decisions according to evidence saturation and with impartial reasoning. Whilst these ought to be natural
26 desires of any professional, not least those working in a field like police accountability, respondents noted how the oversight system has improved in this aspect of its work, with some key reservations.
COPA investigators undergo significantly more formal training than IPRA investigators did.
Previously, investigators underwent minor training upon joining the department and many relied on the training they had received previously as police or in other jurisdictions. With the establishment of COPA, extensive training regimens were implemented, and leadership sought to create a culture conducive to in-service training which was previously lacking:
“One of the weaknesses of IPRA was training was intermittent at best… [COPA] tried to create a culture that really emphasized timeliness and excellence in the performance of your job”
“[re: in-service training] there was an internal cultural issue that needed to be managed.
And there is an external trust issue that needs to be built upon over time. There is no assumption that you create a new agency and all of a sudden that it's better than next one or the last one”
Indeed, the consequences of concluding investigations without sufficient diligence are severe not only for victims but the officers too:
“[officers said] they had too much to potentially lose—their job, pension, house, and family—to risk what they perceive to be a potentially unfair or incorrect COPA ruling and the repercussions associated with such a ruling”
[Police Foundation, report to the Illinois Attorney General, 2018]
Investigative staff undergo a minimum of approximately 12 weeks of education including bias training and education on Chicago’s legacy of police misconduct and accountability. Beyond
27 preparations for oversight practitioners to perform well, extensive managerial oversight frameworks exist to provide additional guidance for investigative staff and access to specialists such as forensics or trauma-trained interviewers, for example, adding further confidence that impartial decisions are reached with full consideration of all available information and resources.
The CPB relies less on training to ensure high-quality and unbiased decision-making as board members bring their expertise to bear for adjudication of cases. Hearing officers and a permanent secretary guide members through legal technicalities where required.
Nonetheless, one participant recalled that during their first few cases on the board, they noticed that other members had contravened the ordinance by discussing cases in private and that the board had a generally pro-police lean:
“When the decision was initially written, the young man was referred to by his first name and the officer was referred to by officer and then his last name until somebody pointed out that remained in the draft of the decision and someone said we don’t talk about victims in a casual way and talk about the people who have been accused in an informal way.”
However, in noticing this, the slant was reportedly corrected. For example, the disciplinary history of officers was previously not considered by the board, this is now included in the proceedings.
As mentioned previously, honesty is key to expectation setting and to that end, ensuring that all parties have access to the same information is crucial to justifying decisions to foster confidence in the process of oversight. COPA’s data transparency policies are unprecedented in the United States and exemplify a genuine intent to rebuild trust in oversight. For officer- involved shootings, the most high-profile incident type, COPA publishes on their website:
press releases, CPD incident reports, CPD tactical reports, 911 dispatch and emergency
28 communications, and COPA’s final summary report, among other related materials. Critically, COPA releases all available video footage of a shooting within 60 days of the incident, regardless of investigation status. This transparency policy is a direct response to the inhibited release of footage demonstrating the unjustifiability of Laquan McDonald’s murder, and the falsity of the officers’ accounts.
COPA’s transparency policies were integral to its 2016 establishment. By comparison, the Bureau of Internal Affairs has had to be obliged to improve its transparency practices by the aforementioned consent decree. Up until 2019, BIA released only the most basic of aggregate data about their caseload, a clear transparency problem given they investigate approximately 60% of total complaints:
“Trust has to be earned. And in my view, the only way to earn trust is to show them what you do and how you do it”
Due to the consent decree, the BIA now releases improved aggregate data quarterly and annually, as well as case summaries and information about the department and its investigative processes. The Consent Decree Community Engagement report (2018) indeed found that transparency was among the top concerns of citizens and so improvement in this area is crucial for increasing trust in oversight.
4.1.4 Giving voice
Giving voice encompasses two aspects of a procedurally just interaction, giving the space for stakeholder voices to be heard, and the ability to exert control over the process. These elements combine to give stakeholders the feeling of having autonomy. Having one’s voice heard gives subjects confidence that their concerns are being incorporated into the process and in conjunction with avenues to have outcomes appealed or corrected, the effect is that subjects are more likely to comply with justice authorities and view them favourably (Leventhal, 1980).
29 For oversight practitioners, this means communicating the options available to complainants and officers to contest and appeal decisions, as well as giving ample opportunity to have grievances and statements heard and recorded. The utility of this was widely recognised by the participants of this study:
“To have members of the public coming away from that, saying ‘yeah that wasn’t the best outcome but that was a responsive operation of city government’, that’s what we owe people.”
Giving voice is particularly crucial for oversight in Chicago for garnering satisfaction from stakeholders as agencies are generally unable to promise specific outcomes given the contingencies built into the system. Furthermore, for situations where an outcome may have been undesirable, stakeholders are more likely to be satisfied if they have been given adequate autonomy in the process and have options to appeal and contest decisions.
For COPA, closed investigations can be reopened with the discovery of new evidence or by an apparent miscarriage of justice occurring. One such example of this was a case reopened due to an alleged miscarriage of justice, over the course of reinvestigating the case and reaffirming the original findings, a separate incident of misconduct was discovered. An officer that had given a witness statement was found to have committed perjury in doing so, leading that officer to be disciplined. However, as the standard to have a case reopened is high, it is a rare occurrence.
As the auditing body, the OIG retains unilateral power to reopen cases as its leadership deems appropriate. The opportunity for stakeholders with grievances to escalate issues to higher authorities is beneficial for the health of oversight for the aforementioned reasons, it gives people confidence that they can influence the process, thereby making outcomes more satisfactory. One such example occurred throughout several public meetings held by the CPB, where the mother of a man shot by police in 2012 gave updates on her efforts to have her
30 son’s case reopened. Despite frustration about the original investigation and its outcome, she was able to pursue these avenues and influence the process even after its original conclusion:
‘I'd like to thank [the OIG representative] for calling me the next day after the Police Board meeting and calling me to keep me informed on what it is you're doing with my son's case. We have spoken every week. And you informed me, and I appreciate that.’
[CPB Public Meeting: April 2021]
Despite not achieving the most desired outcome, by giving people space to air grievances and opportunities to exert influence over the process, outcomes are more palatable and satisfactory, increasing trust in the system. Participants were unanimous in recognising this.
4.2 Inhibitions to Further Improvement
4.2.1 Complexity of System
Oversight can only be as effective as it is accessible, if barriers have to be overcome to feel the benefits of oversight, people are unlikely to be trusting of it. Decades of reforms and additions have rendered Chicago’s system excessively complicated. As investigations progress, complainants must grapple with complex legal concepts such as standards of evidence, affidavits, jurisdictions, and the seemingly endless interagency technicalities and lengthy periods of waiting at every step.
As mentioned previously, some inherent but unpopular aspects of oversight can be overcome with transparency and honesty. Whilst this is implementable at an interpersonal level, directly to case stakeholders, it is harder to communicate en masse. As such, increasing effort is being directed to public outreach and education. COPA devotes an entire unit to the task, holding sessions in community centres and schools to educate and involve the community, as does the OIG. Furthermore, the CPB has been using its monthly public meetings to do outreach and education on oversight:
“I try to make sure that first of all, that they understand the process. So many people just have a general idea, [they] don't really know how the process works”
This quote captures the essence of the complexity issue. Most people understand the basics of the system and its abilities, however, because the system was incrementally built over decades, it is rife with technicalities. Outreach and education efforts are essential and beneficial, but such efforts are hampered by the endless specificities that emerge. For example, why court orders block certain COPA video releases, or why affidavit requirement overrides are seemingly underutilised given how many cases are closed for a lack of one.
There are legitimate answers to these questions but addressing them is an effort akin to fighting a hydra. As long as the system is incomprehensible, the natural pessimism and distrust of the present iteration of oversight are harder to overcome.
4.2.2 Interagency Inefficiency and Competition
With the oversight system being comprised of several agencies operating in a highly scrutinised environment, participants expressed concerns about the relationships between agencies, specifically the efficiencies and sense of competition that the crowded system creates.
An illustrative example of interagency inefficiency occurs after COPA sustains a complaint with findings, meaning the case is passed to the CPD superintendent for review. The superintendent has up to 90 days to pass judgement on COPA’s recommendation, either agreeing with it or passing it to the CPB for adjudication. In this potentially 90-day long period, COPA cannot publish or inform stakeholders of their findings and recommendations as per the OIG’s instruction. Not only does this kind of auditing provoke the feeling that one’s actions are being scrutinised and critiqued, but such delays are more frustrating for case stakeholders and damaging to the oversight system’s reputation when cases are high profile.
32 2021 saw one of the most high-profile cases of misconduct since Laquan McDonald with that of Anjanette Young, a young, black woman who was handcuffed naked to a radiator in her apartment when CPD mistakenly raided her home during the night. Timeliness was a source of major criticism for COPA, yet the investigation lasted the standard ~18 months that all cases were taking, in addition to an almost 6-month delay from the incident not being reported to COPA. Not only were COPA unable to enforce their discipline recommendation unilaterally, but they were also unable to pass the case directly to the CPB due to the superintendent’s review role, and they were further limited by the OIG ruling that their recommendation or finding cannot be revealed even only to victim’s families. When incidents such as this become public and an agency is under the microscope, some participants expressed dismay about the reactions of other actors:
“There's a difference between an untimely investigation because you're negligent in investigating a case versus you simply have a math problem, you have more cases than you have bodies… [nobody says] this is an untimely investigation so I'm gonna get them the resources that they need so that they can do these investigations quicker… that's not working to the benefit of all of the agencies and at the end, it projects a negative opinion of the oversight system”
participants accused other actors of joining in the blame game rather than constructively identifying the problem, ultimately damaging the public perception of the entire oversight system. Whilst this specific account must be treated with due scepticism given the self- preserving interests of each actor and agency, it speaks to a broader culture which is not one of solidarity or cohesion, certainly not one which is conducive to the goals of rebuilding trust in oversight.
A final example of inefficiency and competition in Chicago’s oversight system is the policy recommendation space. The OIG by definition is the typical origin of policy analysis for the
33 police department given its audit role for all city agencies. As such they have unilateral power to investigate any systematic concern in the police department and publish reports with recommendations for the department to improve its operations. COPA has taken on a similar remit with its growing police research and analysis division. In addition, the CPB also has powers to perform policy research and analysis for the police department although it has not elected to use this power until recently. Indeed, the consent decree dictates that all three agencies must implement a quarterly joint meeting to discuss their respective analyses and recommendations. Whilst each agency has its own useful perspective, such as COPA generating topics and data from across its investigative section, having three discrete agencies produce policy reports for the police department may be redundant when labour- power and budget constraints are consistent limitations of Chicago’s oversight agencies according to participants of this study.
4.2.3 Accountability links broken
As discussed previously, COPA is the face of oversight for much of the associated public and political discourse, it is the first point of contact for most complainants and media coverage of incidents. However, the agency has less control over the outcomes of investigations than most onlookers may assume given the amount of attention they receive. In democracies, government agencies are supposed to be accountable to the public, however, the more that responsibilities are distributed across bureaucracies, the more that accountability is reduced for the public (Walsh & Conway, 2011; 71). For stakeholders in civilian oversight this is potentially damaging for their trust in the system as any single agency’s responsibility for a case is diffused into the broader bureaucracy of oversight:
“…every single one of those people can touch that report, and that investigation, at some point, I don't know how that benefits the impacted parties.”
34 Taking timeliness as an example, even once COPA has completed its role in investigating a serious complaint, if it is passed off to the CPD superintendent for review, COPA is no longer in control. Yet, COPA remains functionally responsible as far as the public or complainants are concerned, especially since they are the source of ongoing communication:
“So, we had 'em, they trusted us, they're with us, they're participating, and we're done.
And we sometimes lose every ounce of credibility that we had with the family in those four months, because it's those four months that they have to wait before they can be told the outcome or before they can receive a copy of the report”
Whilst this problem can be partly attributed to public understanding of the oversight system, the technicalities and idiosyncrasies of the process are likely of little concern to victims given their need for justice. As the labour of police accountability is divided across so many agencies, the responsibility that one single agency or representative carries is diluted, weakening the accountability of oversight to its key stakeholders. In establishing COPA, significant efforts were made to improve the communication and accessibility of the new agency compared to its predecessor. However, in so doing, COPA is now positioned as the default bearer of responsibility for the entire system, despite investigative outcomes often being determined elsewhere, possibly to the detriment of the entire system’s credibility.
4.2.4 Deterrence ideology
Police accountability systems across the United States almost universally mirror the standard deterrence ideology found in traditional criminal justice. Under a deterrence framework, deviance is supposedly discouraged once the threat of punishment outweighs the benefits of law-breaking. Applying this premise to police accountability, once the threat of discipline for misconduct becomes so great and realistic, misconduct will cease. Deterrence ideologies are underpinned by a normative belief that punishment for offenders is justice for victims, an increasingly contested view (Beale, 2003; Place, 2018).
35 Developments in the Chicago oversight system have always come as a reaction to particularly high-profile and egregious incidents, meaning that past reforms do not reflect the nature of the vast majority of misconduct complaints. Taking the murder of Laquan McDonald, the fact that the officers’ actions were demonstrably indefensible thanks to (eventually released) video footage naturally prompted calls for a punitive response. When COPA was designed in the aftermath of the incident and in response to the failure of IPRA to prevent misconduct, its policies reflected the concerns around the McDonald murder, e.g., the mandatory video release policy for officer-involved shootings.
Punishment and deterrence were again enshrined as the only tools to give justice to victims and prevent future misconduct. Whilst increasing efforts in the aforementioned policy analysis and recommendation area go some way to providing an alternative method to reduce misconduct, implementing those recommendations generally rests exclusively with the police department (with the exception of some OIG findings):
“If oversight only exists pursuant to an officer's actions, i.e., reactive, the ability to create that cultural change that's needed globally, regionally, and at the actual department level, we’re not gonna get there”
Swathes of literature point to the inadequacy of punitive justice as a means to heal the wounds of crime generally and police misconduct too (Doak & O’Mahony, 2012). Given that only ~2.5%
of cases investigated by COPA are officer-involved shootings, it is untenable to prioritise punitive measures in every investigation. Not only does this devour resources to meet standards of evidence to warrant punishments, but it does not necessarily provide meaningful justice to victims nor prevent future misconduct.
36 5. Discussion
This study highlights several aspects of the Chicago civilian oversight system which deliver procedural justice to complainants and police officers. Participants reported genuine motivations to help people and fix systems which encourages trustworthiness as does treating people with respect and dignity. Furthermore, honesty, transparency and active listening were found to be strong foundations on which to build a successful oversight system in Chicago as these elements have been found to encourage satisfaction, cooperation, and compliance.
However, several factors were found to reduce the impact of the positive elements.
Firstly, the iterative and reactionary reform cycle which has produced the current system is proving increasingly bloated and inefficient, not least with the latest addition of yet another civilian review board scheduled to begin operation in 2022. Complainants face accessibility barriers owing to the system’s complexity, and interagency competition and tensions distract and detract from the work of oversight. The links between stakeholders and justice are frequently interrupted, obscured, and compromised altogether. Discipline and deterrence may be popular, especially for high-profile cases, but prioritising these ends to the exclusion of others eliminates the possibility of alternative and more efficient routes to justice for many types of complaints. These issues in combination limit the effectiveness of the procedurally just practices in improving public trust in oversight. This section provides some preliminary recommendations to augment the deliverance of procedural justice in Chicago civilian oversight.
Recommendation 1: Optimisation Exercise
Under the shadow of the new oversight board being added to the already bloated system, participants universally expressed incredulity that a new agency would not exacerbate the existing problems caused by fractured and complex oversight. To this end, there must be a concerted and coordinated effort to optimise the Chicago oversight system. The path of serious complaints from the investigative agencies to leadership and to the CPB is a particular