Luke Shepard

I use data to tell stories.

We need to defund the Chicago Police

04 June 2020

I’ve been horrified by the murder of George Floyd and the ongoing abuse of Black lives by police around the country. It is an unconscionable act. And when faced with something so terrible as a murder in broad daylight, it is tempting to dismiss it as “one bad apple” - an aberrant act, one officer who messed up amidst a department that is otherwise mostly ok.

That is a big mistake.

The officer who killed Mr. Floyd had a “history of misconduct”. The Minneapolis Police Department had the option to remove him from the streets years ago, but chose not to. That department clearly has a culture of abuse. The ACLU filed From a lawsuit that illustrates many examples of systematic deprivation of rights just during the protests of the last week.

The police unions are a key source of the problem. The head of the Minneapolis police union is Bob Kroll. In his own words, he has “been involved in three shootings myself, and not one of them has bothered me.” He sees policing as a simple use of force against whoever gets in his way: “you make them with force, that’s how you get compliance.”. In the ACLU lawsuit, they go into more detail about what a uniquely terrible representative Kroll is:

Kroll has a long history of racist and inflammatory statements and conduct, from calling Attorney General (then Congressman) Keith Ellison a “terrorist” for calling for police reform, to his membership the City Heat motorcycle club, an organization called out by the Anti-Defamation League for displaying white supremacist symbols. Kroll was even sued in a section 1983 action by current Chief Arradondo and several other plaintiffs.

But the problem is not only in Minneapolis. My own city of Chicago has some of the worst segregation and police misconduct in the nation. In 2016, The Intercept ran a series on the Chicago Police that has excellent information on the worst abuses. One of the most important resources that came out of that effort is the Invisible Institute’s collection of Chicago Police Data.

It’s clear we need to put a stop to the ongoing practices of overpolicing and underinvesting minority communities. In Chicago, police are 14 times more likely to use force against young Black men than their White counterparts.

14 times. That is absolutely insane.

That force eminates from a small number of cops - the so-called “bad apples”. But a better metaphor may be a virus. The invisible institute showed how a small number of cops “spread their misconduct like a disease.” Recently released data from the Chicago police department shows that misconduct spreads from officer to officer like a disease.

And unlike the efforts around “social distancing” we are seeing with a real pandemic, within the police, the union fights tooth and nail to prevent any accountability or removal of abusive police. They stay on the force, racking up complaints and lawsuits which are paid for by the taxpayers - now and well into the future.

Mayor Lightfoot ran for office largely on a platform of police reform. A core plank of her promise is to institute a civilian accountability board. I hope that such efforts pay off. However, I’m increasingly convinced that the only true solution is a dramatic reduction in funding for the police department.

Chicago Police are a growing chunk of the city’s operating budget. In 2020 the CPD will spend $1.7 billion, continuing the trend of massive year over year increases. Supposedely this money is to fight the wave of crime in the city. But will it work?

Chicago Police Budget cpd budbget

No, it won’t. The better answer is to spend that money on improvements and investments in communities. From a recent article on WBEZ, we find that a few neighborhoods in Chicago - Lincoln Park, Lakeview, etc - each have more mortgage investments than all the majority Black and Latino neighborhoods combined. That kind of disparity is reinforced through discriminatory use of TIF slush funds.

In short, I am a strong supporter of the need to defund or reduce funding for the police, and look into the other key demands from Black Lives Matter in Chicago. We all need to work for racial justice.