CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Supt. David Brown said the time of turning a blind eye to police misconduct is over in Chicago.
During a Thursday news conference, Lightfoot said she is looking at ways the city can hold officers accountable for wrongdoing. Lightfoot’s comments came after Rep. Bobby Rush revealed Chicago Police officers illegally entered Rush’s office last week and napped while Englewood businesses were looted and burned nearby — with neighbors calling on them to help.
The incident, caught on video, reflects poorly on the entire police department, Lightfoot and Brown said, and every time the city fails to hold bad officers accountable, it harms the good, hardworking police officers.
“Let’s now be the good cops that hold the bad cops accountable by rooting them out of this profession,” Brown said. “Period. No question mark. No gray area.”
But police officers have stiff protections through their union that critics say make it hard to reform the department or get rid of individual “bad apples.”
One area Lightfoot’s targeting: She wants to look at police pensions, saying she was sickened that former Police Cmdr. Jon Burge collected a full, taxpayer-funded pension for years — despite spending time in prison, torturing people and costing the city hundreds of millions in misconduct and wrongful conviction lawsuits.
“One of the things that continuously troubles me is thinking about Jon Burge. Jon Burge was fired by the Police Board in 1993. Jon Burge caused immeasurable harm to so many people,” Lightfoot said. “Every minute he enjoyed his police pension. There’s nothing right about that. That’s offensive. So we’ve got to address that issue, as well.”
Burge led a group of rogue officers known as the “midnight crew” in torturing suspects to get them to confess to crimes from 1972-1991. There are at least 115 known victims of police torture in Chicago, almost all linked to Burge and his crew.
A 2018 analysis by the People’s Law Office shows Burge-related lawsuits have cost the city more than $132 million — and counting.
And yet Burge — like many other officers who have left the force in disgrace — was able to collect a pension.
Activists have said for years police who commit crimes or get fired should not get pensions, but they’ve face stiff challenges in trying to change that dynamic.
State law says police officers are entitled to pensions after 20 years on the job, and they can start collecting those funds once they turn 50. That means the city is not able to strip an officer of their pension.
And though Lightfoot said she wants the city to address that issue, it’s not the only tactic she wants to use to hold officers accountable. Lightfoot said she’s pushing the city’s legal team to draft legislation that would require officers to be licensed and certified with the state.
The mayor said the city must also work with the Fraternal Order of Police, the officers’ union, which “has been holding back the necessary change and reform” the city needs to address officer misconduct.
“There will be a reckoning for the FOP,” Lightfoot said. “And I think that moment is now.”
New police union President John Catanzara has faced a long history of misconduct allegations himself.
A ProPublica Illinois investigation in 2018 revealed he is one of the most disciplined officers in the Chicago police department, having been suspended seven times. The Chicago Tribune reported in May that Catanzara is on desk duty and being investigated for a 2018 police report he filed against then-police Supt. Eddie Johnson.
Catanzara won election as union chief in May and recently threatened to expel any officers who publicly support demonstrators protesting police violence while in uniform.
Chief of Patrol Fred Waller said the attitude police can do no wrong must be stopped.
“We cannot allow this attitude to exist in this department. We cannot allow the good works [of officers] to be smeared” by bad ones, Waller said. “This cannot be pushed aside. It cannot be handled gently.”
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