Friday, May 23, 2014

Does a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) need to be part of a "new plan of Chicago"?

"I ask each of you 
to think about this problem 
and how you can own it."
- Zachary Fardon

The remarks by U.S Attorney Zachary Fardon on Wednesday, May 21, 2014, in Chicago seem to point directly to the need for a democratically-elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) for Chicago.

The topic -- the "problem" -- Fardon was talking about was violence, and the thrust of his remarks was that part of the solution lies with specialists, but that the ultimate solution requires the participation of the people.

The Chicago Tribune made this the focus of its lead editorial yesterday -- "How can you own Chicago's violence?" (The words "and subdue" were added to the online version.) And it tied it into the larger discourse about the future of Chicago that the Tribune has been trying to stir up under the rubric "A new plan of Chicago."

The "new plan of Chicago," of course, makes reference to the historic Plan of Chicago commissioned by Chicago civic leaders a century ago.  On its face, the "plan" was architectural -- proposals for how vast areas of the city would be developed, the rational placement of roads, etc.  But underlying the plan was sociology and politics -- how larger and larger numbers of Americans could live together in what surely was the city of the future.

The Tribune has been inviting all Chicagoans -- and people everywhere, in fact -- to become part of the conversation about what it will take to form a vision of Chicago for the next century.

An essential component of the "new plan of Chicago," as suggested by the Tribune, is a fundamentally new relationship of the people of the city to the civil servants who provide for public safety. As things currently stand, the police force is a power unto itself, accountable to no one but the Mayor, and for vast portions of the city this sets an example of force, power, and violence as the way that problems get solved.

Yes, there is a toothless review mechanism -- the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) -- but IPRA is not accountable to the populace, and the popular perception is that it exists to protect the police. There were 138 police shootings in Chicago between January 2007 and September 2009: 138, with 44 fatalities. The IPRA statistic from that period that sticks in my mind is "IPRA findings of fault in police shootings: 1" (“officer inattentive to duty” because he fired his gun accidentally. He argued he had shot the person intentionally but IPRA didn’t believe him). (See Chicago’s IPRA: Indiscriminate Police Rampage Authorization? )

Cop placed on desk duty in connection with raid at massage parlor
The lived experience of a vast number of people in Chicago is that the police operate from a position of unassailable power: the authority of the police comes from their guns and ordinary people have no recourse against police crimes. And we question why people think violence is the way to get results?

Here's how researchers have put it:

Why do people believe that violence is acceptable? In this article, the authors study people’s normative beliefs about the acceptability of violence to achieve social control (as a substitute for the police, for self-protection and the resolution of disputes) and social change (through violent protests and acts to achieve political goals). Addressing attitudes toward violence among young men from various ethnic minority communities in London, the authors find that procedural justice is strongly correlated with police legitimacy, and that positive judgments about police legitimacy are associated with more negative views about the use of violence. They conclude with the idea that police legitimacy has an additional, hitherto unrecognized, empirical property—by constituting the belief that the police monopolise rightful force in society, legitimacy has a “crowding out” effect on positive views of private violence.

(See "Monopolizing force? Police legitimacy and public attitudes toward the acceptability of violence." Jackson, Jonathan; Huq, Aziz Z.; Bradford, Ben; Tyler, Tom R. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Vol 19(4), Nov 2013, 479-497.)

In other words, as another U.S. Attorney for the Chicago area -- Thomas Sullivan -- said in a recent Tribune editorial, "[W]hen those we entrust to enforce the law have engaged in misconduct, action has to be taken. Otherwise, an official green light is flashed, and a silent message of approval is sent." (See "Seeking punishment for errant police and prosecutors")

The Tribune, itself, says that the solution lies ultimately not with the professionals but with the people:

There is much that many of us cannot do to combat Chicago's violence. For that we have a mayor, our police officers, our prosecutors, our judges and all of the other professionals who try to keep everyone safe.

But there also is much that any one of us can do. To help a child, to help a mother, to help a street, to help a neighborhood.

A campaign exists to bring about a democratically-elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) in Chicago. The campaign would involve the people in electing the watchers of the police, and put the ultimate control of (and responsibility for) the police in the hands of the citizens of Chicago.

People will be taking to the streets this summer to gather signatures and build support for CPAC.  The people will see CPAC enacted.

It would be a good thing if the Chicago Tribune saw fit to back CPAC as an essential element of a  "new plan of Chicago."


The Chicago Campaign for an Elected
Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC)

9 More Ideas You Won't Hear

at Chicago Ideas Week . . .

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