Excessive force, payouts

The news: A federal jury convicted former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge of perjury and obstruction in June after he denied torturing suspects during a civil lawsuit seven years ago. Since the verdict, two lawsuits were filed against Burge and the City of Chicago for abuse and wrongful conviction.

Behind the news: In 2009, the city paid almost $10.5 million for judgments and settlements in lawsuits involving excessive force by police officers, according to a Chicago Reporter analysis of records from the Chicago Department of Law.

The 10-year total payout for more than 650 excessive-force lawsuits in Chicago was almost $47.7 million. Last year’s payout was not only the highest in 10 years, but also more than the total amount paid between 2000 and 2005.

Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project, a nonprofit working on police accountability issues, said that the high payouts indicate that mechanisms of police oversight still need to improve. “They aren’t really living up to their promise,” he said.

Siska said one way to lower the amount the city ends up paying in lawsuits is to punish cops with a track record for brutality. He pointed to his organization’s 10-year study of the decisions made by the Chicago Police Board, a civilian oversight committee established to govern police conduct. His organization found that the board overruled two-thirds of the cases where the superintendent decided officers should be terminated.

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