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Chicago Police Dept protected officers who commited rape, theft, extortion: Reports

These are stories about a police system that needs?reforming?because it permits bad apples. Photograph: (Getty)

WION New Delhi Oct 07, 2016, 04.20 PM (IST) Jeff Halperin

Two American publications have released incredibly damning reports, both about the Chicago Police.

Shaun King, publishing in the NY Daily News, writes about a Chicago police officer who was found guilty in court of a violent sexual assault against a suspect, yet is still employed by the Chicago Police Department years later. 

Jamie Kalven, writing in The Intercept, has written a very in-depth case in a four-part series, showing how for years the Chicago Police Department permitted officers within its own forces to act as, essentially, a criminal gang. 


A Chicago Police Department sergeant named Ronald Watts was running an elaborate criminal enterprise within the depatment, extorting a 'tax' from drug dealers and targeting their rivals.

King's article details how, in the summer of 2004, a young African American man named Coprez Coffie, employed as a security guard at a nearby hotel, was said to be taking part in a drug deal when he was pulled over by Chicago Police Officer Scott Korhonen. He was then driven to an alley, handcuffed and strip-searched. Next, Officer Korhonen placed a screwdriver inside his anus, causing injuries.

After three years, where Coffie and his attorneys fought to go to trial, and after the Chicago Police Department refused to investigate or discipline Officer Korhonen, a jury found the officers guilty of "unreasonable search" and ordered the city to pay $4 million in settlements, plus over half a million dollars to cover Mr Coffie's legal fees. 

The investigation showed that the officers had screwdrivers in the glove compartment of their car, where human fecal matter was found. The injuries to Mr Coffie's rectum were confirmed on the record.

The judge called it a "clear case" with a "preponderance of evidence" and accused the officers of giving false testimony under oath. Despite this, and costing the city $5 million dollars in settlements and legal fees, both officers avoided jail time and to this day are gainfully employed by the Chicago Police Department, making about $90,000 a year.


Kalven's article at The Intercept is of a different, deeper nature. Its subject is a specific, yet more widespread, instance of systemic police criminality, complete with cover up. These accusations have been made before, but because police seldom accuse their own and because they know better than anyone how to cover up crime, they are seldom accompanied by so much evidence. 

As he sums up the allegations, "A Chicago Police Department sergeant named Ronald Watts was running an elaborate criminal enterprise within the depatment, extorting a 'tax' from drug dealers and targeting their rivals". Even murder is alleged. The story is about the two police members who spent years trying to investigate their colleagues, and in return were ostracised and retaliated against. For all the two endured, on May 31, 2016, they received a settlement in a whistleblower lawsuit from the city of Chicago for $2 million.

Each of Kalven's four segments are long, and the story it details covers a ten-year period, so it's much beyond the scope of this article to summarise fully. It's a must-read article, specifically because the police likely settled rather than allow these whistleblowers' damning testimony to be made in a public court under oath. The articles are the testimony the court didn't get to hear. 

But the true link between King and Kalven's writings is not simply the criminal, even grotesquely criminal, dealings of Chicago police officers. It is the near impunity these officers had to commit crimes within the very institutions meant to prevent crime. The "code of silence", the atmosphere wherein police give their loyalty to fellow cops, no matter their guilt, rather than to the oath they swore "to serve and protect". This is the real topic. These are stories about  a few bad apples, but more than that they are stories about a police system that needs reforming because it so often permits bad apples.

Sadly, the complex topic of policing is often, but not always, boiled down to two monolithic camps; "pro" and "anti" police. Some interpret this conversation as a choice between the two. Everyone should be "pro justice", and actually probably everyone currently is, just they differ vastly on where they think justice lies. 

Kalven's story couldn't exist without the dogged work of two police officers who did in fact uphold the job's highest calling, and took on great risk to do so. They are a fantastic credit to police everywhere. When police do their difficult and important job well, they should be commended and honoured.

But when police rape, extort, steal or kill people, which happens more than many people would like to admit, blind allegiance to the institution called police is unacceptable. A cop who isn't guilty of these crimes but permits their continuation is guilty. 

Everyone should want the same basic things: peace and security for all. Whether in Chicago or anywhere else in the world, it shouldn't be much to ask.



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