Chicago police squad cars. (Ceyhun Jay Isik | Flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Over the last month, municipal and police leaders in Chicago have been embroiled in a controversy involving Chicago police officers’ wrongful raid of a social worker’s home in February of 2019.
The social worker, Anjanette Young, had just returned from work and was changing when several officers burst into her home and, while she was still naked, handcuffed her, according to video of the incident first released by CBS2 Chicago.
The officers had the wrong address.
The scandal has swept up officials in the police department, city administrative staff, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The city’s corporation counsel, Mark Flessner, resigned over the incident.
The Anjanette Young raid gained national attention and is part of a pattern in the Chicago Police Department. The TV station, which has reported extensively on this issue, has documented at least a dozen wrongful raids — with more likely unknown because the department doesn’t track this data.
Several of the officers who raided Young’s home have histories, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. One of the officers is a defendant in a lawsuit over a separate wrongful raid in 2017. Another is currently under investigation for fatally shooting a man in 2019.
The police department has placed 12 officers on desk duty for their involvement in the raid. Those 12 officers have had 18 civilian complaints lodged against them in their careers, according to the Sun-Times, but none have been sustained. Though some complaints were dismissed because the accuser failed to sign an affidavit.
It was amid this controversy that the City of Madison’s Police and Fire Commission (PFC) voted 3-2 to hire Dr. Shon Barnes, director of training and professional development for COPA — the body responsible for investigating accusations of misconduct in the Chicago Police Department.
Barnes did not start working for COPA until August when he left his role as Deputy Chief of the Salisbury Police Department in Salisbury, North Carolina. Before his three years in Salisbury, Barnes spent 20 years with the Greensboro, North Carolina police department — reaching the rank of captain.
Barnes was chosen over the objections of community organizations, Madison residents and the city’s own civilian oversight board. Accusations that the PFC wasn’t transparent throughout the hiring process were common in public comments about the search finalists.
The overwhelming favorite of the members of the public who spoke at PFC meetings was Ramon Batista, the former police chief of Mesa, Ariz.
But despite the public’s insistence, Barnes was selected.
“I want to be the next police chief in Madison because I believe that Madison needs a forward thinking, community-oriented police chief that is able to connect with all segments of city to create those partnerships that [are] going to make those people’s lives better,” Barnes said in an interview, released by the PFC.
In Madison, community activists have long called for greater police accountability — most recently fighting for the implementation of a civilian oversight committee. A common refrain at protests is “fire Matt Kenny,” referring to the Madison officer who fatally shot and killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson in 2015.
Barnes comes from a Chicago office that is nominally responsible for overseeing the city’s police department yet it often finds itself unable to do so — intractable city politics, the flaunting of rules and a powerful police union frequently get in the way.
COPA was created by the Chicago City Council in 2016 after the city’s previous police oversight board, the Independent Police Review Authority, or IPRA, had lost the trust of the community following the police murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014 and the resulting scandal.
IPRA had been formed in 2007 after the Office of Professional Standards was disbanded in another police scandal.
For decades, local officials, bodies and boards have failed to hold the Chicago Police Department accountable as it wreaked havoc on the city’s communities of color. The history of police terror in Chicago includes Commander Jon Burge who for decades led a team that tortured confessions out of residents.
Three years after it opened its doors, COPA has often failed to live up to its mandate.
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In September 2020 — one month after Barnes arrived at the agency — the city’s inspector general released a report that found the office regularly failed to meet deadlines requiring the release of audio and video recordings when the police department uses force. COPA has 60 days to release audio, video and police documents when force is used, yet fails to meet this deadline in 27% of cases, the inspector general found.
Last month, the inspector general released a more damning report that found COPA regularly closed preliminary investigations into officers because of a lack of sworn affidavits even when “there was objective, verifiable evidence which supported the allegations.”
Illinois law requires an affidavit to be signed before an investigation is launched into police misconduct, but an override can be obtained if other evidence exists.
The failure to properly oversee the police department falls to more granular policy failures as well. Most of the city’s cops are required to wear body cameras and activate them during investigative stops, yet an analysis by CBS Chicago found that in the city’s predominately Black and Latino communities the chance that an officer will actually turn the camera on is about 50%.
The CBS investigation found that even though department policy mandates the use of the body cameras, officers are rarely punished for failure to adhere to the rules by COPA or the department’s internal affairs division.
Spokespeople for COPA and the Madison PFC did not respond to requests for comment. The Madison Police Department said Barnes was unavailable for an interview.
Barnes is set to be sworn in as Madison Police Chief on Feb. 1.
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