The city of Chicago has provided a blueprint for future public oversight of police violence.
Earlier this month, the city unveiled an online database of cases investigated for possible police misconduct. The release was prompted by public concern over the many disturbing and controversial shooting deaths of African-Americans and others by police officers over the past few years.
The expansive database contains video footage, audio recordings and other documentary evidence related to these incidents. The public can now judge for itself whether police - and their overseers - are behaving appropriately.
There is nothing new about this effort. The Legal Aid Society in New York City, the nation’s largest association of public defenders, launched a police accountability database in 2015. In addition, a lawsuit in Chicago led to the creation of the Citizen Police Public Data Project, an online database devoted to documenting alleged cases of police misconduct.
The new database was built in 2007 by the Chicago Independent Police Review Authority, “to promote increased accountability by, and transparency about the work of, the Chicago Police Department.” Its recent release based on a recommendation by the Police Accountability Task Force, created in December 2015 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, following the release of a shocking video showing the killing of a black man, Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer. The video went viral and spurred calls for Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to resign.
The task force was an attempt to build public trust in the police department, especially amongst the city’s African-American population. While some of the city’s black communities have a serious problem with gun violence, the killing of black people by police officers is also a problem. Between 2008 and 2015, according to a task force report, 404 people were shot by police officers; 299 were African-American. From 2012 to 2015, police officers used their stun guns on individuals 1,886 times; 76 percent of those shocked with stun guns were African-Americans, although African-Americans comprise roughly 31 percent of the city’s population.
Chicago’s problem with police shootings mirrors some other troubled spots. Nationwide, blacks were three times more likely to be killed by police than whites in 2015 and unarmed black people were killed at five times the rate of white people that same year. Black men are 6 percent of the population but were 40 percent of the persons shot by police in 2015. Of those shot in 2015 exhibiting “less threatening behavior,” 60 percent were black or Hispanic.
This move by Chicago to greater transparency should be supported. Yet more must be done to build trust between the public and the men and women who have taken an oath to protect and serve them.
Brian Gilmore is a poet, writer and public interest law professor based in Washington, D.C. His latest book is “We Didn’t Know Any Gangsters.”