The accountability search

Alysia Tate, editor and publisher

Alysia Tate, editor and publisher

We’re still running, and with good reason.

Three years ago, the Reporter found that more Chicagoans are shot by police than New Yorkers. African Americans—a large number of the victims—also often fled, and shot at, the officers who patrolled their neighborhoods.

I asked then whether we could begin to rebuild this frayed relationship. That lack of trust, I argued, certainly exacerbates the problem.

Since then, we’ve seen another superintendent step down and a new slew of reforms. But many black Chicagoans remain skeptical that the changes will make much difference, and rightly so.

As Reporter Jeff Kelly Lowenstein reveals in our collaboration with ColorLines magazine, the police department’s own practices must change dramatically for police to turn from foe to friend in the minds of many. It appears that a large percentage of those who shoot and kill have been sued before. And nearly all of them were affirmed to be under department guidelines.

While some of those killings may be justified under the circumstances, citizens must see more clearly a department accountable to them. Those overseeing a reshaped department—most notably Mayor Richard M. Daley—should heed this warning.

Otherwise, the citizens he leads will continue to see an administration that pays attention to problem officers only when their beatings are caught on tape. They will continue to wonder how many other friends or relatives will be shot, and how many more millions of their tax dollars spent on legal fees and settlements, before a problem officer is taken off their streets.

In other words, they will see themselves as the watchdogs of the police, since their city refuses to do it for them.

They will use cameras. They will write down badge numbers. They will send text messages to warn their neighbors when certain patrol cars approach. And they may act hostile to police, a common thread in many fatal shootings.

I’d like to think we can create a different kind of climate in many neighborhoods, but our own reporting makes me skeptical, too. It took months for Kelly Lowenstein to get the most basic information on shootings from the department, which left questions to one of its newest staffers, Ilana Rosenzweig, new head of the revamped Office of Professional Standards. The department’s more veteran members would not answer other questions.

Many aldermen on the council’s police and fire committee, most notably its leader, the West Side 29th Ward’s Isaac Carothers, would not comment either. Daley’s staff did not return calls; the quote from him which appears in this story came when Kelly Lowenstein followed him at a recent event.

We don’t take it personally when officials dodge us. But for the city’s sake, we hope they will do a better job of responding to the many families who live in fear of their own police department.