Chicago Police Department Needs Reform

It’s been a rough month for the Chicago Police Department (CPD). 

First came the revelations from Spencer Ackerman and The Guardian about a CPD warehouse at Homan Square that was, according to detainees, defense attorneys, and civil rights advocates, operating as a “black site” where detainees were held for hours and aggressively interrogated without ever being officially entered into the system or given access to their attorneys. While the police and others dispute this characterization, one complaint seems to be that the abuses at Homan Square could be found at any police facility in Chicago.  Not exactly a resounding defense of CPD practices.  Last week the commander of the Homan Square facility, Nicholas Roti, resigned.

This week, the ACLU of Illinois released a troubling report about the use of Stop-and-Frisk in Chicago.  Stop-and-Frisk is the controversial practice, made infamous by the NYPD which has been ordered to halt it, of stopping large numbers of (especially African American and Hispanic) men on the street without probable cause and frisking them for contraband.  The ACLU report concludes that the CPD’s use of this practice is even broader and more Constitutionally-suspect than the NYPD program.

This week has also brought questions of the Chicago Police Department’s use of cell site simulator technology to track and potentially rip data from cell phones.  As previously noted, such devices are in use across the country, but government officials have gone to great lengths – including dropping serious charges against suspects - to prevent the public from finding out where these devices are being deployed and what, if any, guidelines exist to oversee their employment.  These devices are capable of interfering with and infiltrating the cell phones of everyone within a given area, inevitably including many innocent people in their sweep.  The use of sealed and potentially vague court orders rather than warrants to deploy them is also cause for concern. The taxpayers of Chicago have already been billed more than $120,000 by an outside law firm retained to prevent the disclosure of the CPD’s use of these devices.

In short, Chicago has emerged over the last month as ground zero for institutional civil liberty and transparency deprivations, and demonstrates clearly the need for more intense public scrutiny of police practices around the country.