This year, The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 7, representing current and former Chicago Police Department (CPD) officers, will negotiate a new contract. While I have plenty to say about how the current contract effectively codifies the ‘code of silence’ (see http://goo.gl/7FnwW6) and how the contract must change in the interest of public safety and police accountability– I’ll save all of that for another day.

For the moment, let’s talk about what those of us concerned with public safety and police accountability can learn from the protections that officers under investigation enjoy!

From the looks of the current contract, the FOP knows a little something about making investigations more fair, just, equitable, healthy, and… effective.  When their protections apply to suspects in CPD custody, I expect we’ll see fewer false confessions, wrongful convictions, and less physical and psychological trauma, coming out of interrogation rooms. We could also expect more hope and trust for the legitimacy of ‘the law’ in communities where the expectation of procedural justice is still not reasonable under the current regime.

By the way, this is not tongue-in-cheek.  I know officers who respect human and civil rights, want to do right by their badge, and will only be aided when police policy toward the public, mirrors the FOP contract’s protections for police under investigation. Real access to defense counsel for suspects is a great place to start. My opinion? Well, yes, but I’m quoting the police union here!

Observation #1 –

Apparently, Chicago Police know the importance of being represented by defense counsel during interrogations: the FOP contract allows officers time to secure counsel before they are questioned. How do we know this? Section 6.2 (J) of the FOP contract ensures an officer under investigation is allowed time to actually get an attorney to come in and represent them when being questioned by Internal Affairs or the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA):  “The interrogation shall be suspended for a reasonable time until representation can be obtained.”

By contrast, a civilian suspected of wrongdoing is not given time to arrange for counsel to represent them before they are brought in for questioning. In fact, people in CPD custody cannot use the phone to call an attorney until after they are processed at the conclusion of the investigation.

Granted, if a civilian suspect detained at a police station invokes their right to counsel by saying “I will not talk, I want my lawyer,” police must stop questioning unless or until the suspect re/initiates conversation. However, the arrestee is still not connected with an attorney or given access to the phone to do so, sometimes for days while they are held without contact with anyone but police and prosecutors.

For people under arrest in Chicago police stations, access to the phone is just one of the significant barriers to accessing the right to counsel. The Office of the Cook County Public Defender does not represent custodial suspects during police investigations, and while First Defense Legal Aid exists to fill this gap, only if someone knows of the arrest and calls us on behalf of the detainee can we deploy in time to help an arrestee access their rights!

The FOP contract’s model would be progress, where it specifies how real access to the right to counsel must be provided and facilitated for police under investigation. They may also have an FOP representative present, who would also help facilitate representation by counsel. For civilian suspects in custody, First Defense is available. CPD Superintendent McCarthy: why not provide our 24-hour number and access to the phone before questioning?

Observation #2 –

Let’s implement other parts of the FOP “Bill of Rights” for arrestees too: Section 6.4 — Photo Dissemination: “No photo of an officer under investigation shall be made available to the media prior to a conviction for a criminal offense or prior to a decision being rendered by the Police Board.” Along with: Section 6.9 — Media Information Restrictions: “The identity of an officer under investigation shall not be made available to the media unless there has been a criminal conviction or a decision has been rendered by the Police Board (or by the Superintendent). However, if the officer is found innocent, the officer may request and the Department shall issue a public statement.”

Great idea. It bothers me that police routinely release photos, names, and charges to the media for publication, implying wrongdoing before a suspect or accused has been heard. On a personal level, publishing mugshots and names of the accused in the news can indeed harm people’s employment, relationships, children and families, and right to a fair trial. I see the FOP is aware and concerned about these implications for their members.

These ‘stories’ also promote a dangerous false narrative of crime and justice, antagonizing racism, classism, segregation, and fear (lots of research on this in this book: http://goo.gl/59DQWl). On the other hand, I’d say that there are strong public policy reasons for promptly publishing information on peace officers accused of misconduct.  But I digress.

Observation #3-

A third section of the FOP contract resonates after seeing people arrested while not knowing if their wounded friend or family member is alive or dead, or while they themselves are being treated in critical condition after being shot by police.

The FOP knows that a shooting incident can induce psychological trauma that is understandably exacerbated by an interrogation. Their contract requires at least 24-48 hours between a shooting and an IPRA investigator’s interview with the shooting officer. While the last IPRA annual report recommends a decrease in this wait period, the new IPRA Chief Administrator Scott Ando supports the provision that “allows the officer to get home, get a meal, and get a night’s rest,” before being investigated.   Ando insists the delay does NOT negatively impact IPRA’s ability to investigate, and even helps by providing IPRA investigators time to gather and review other evidence before conducting the formal interview with the officer. I’m not so sure about that, but taking it at face value and applying it to all investigations means: interrogations can respect a suspect’s humanity and advance public safety at the same time.

That, I’m into. You would be too. Compare this procedure to what I see civilians shot by police endure: they are arrested even while being admitted into intensive care, questioned even while on life support, and disallowed from making contact with their family and lawyers, sometimes for days. If this is unthinkable for a police officer, why is it OK for any human being? And many of these civilians I described are still in their teens…children.

Speaking of humanity, the FOP contract encourages interventions from IPRA and CPD Internal Affairs that are oriented towards learning and healing vs. punishing. Mandatory counseling, training, and treatment are often the “sentences” doled out for police misconduct. I would not mind more of this practice seeping into Chicago policing at all– starting with those for whom time spent in shackles and a cage is unlikely to have a positively transformative effect, like juveniles, the mentally ill, people affected by violence and trauma… just about everybody.

As contract negotiations between the City of Chicago and the FOP gear up, communities most affected by police overreach and street crime will do well to follow the FOP’s lead: demand real access to counsel for people arrested or detained in Chicago police stations, and a change in the culture of interrogations and publicity around suspects that have not even seen a judge yet. The FOP safeguards this for their members in contract negotiations. Similar CPD general orders and/or city ordinances are long overdue for preventing the myriad negative affects of false confessions, wrongful convictions, and police torture, even as more of these cases continue to come to light.

Thank you for reading my first Blog.  Check out the current FOP contract for yourself at: http://chicagofop.org/contract/contract_07-12.pdf

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