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Why is it so hard for cops to get fired?

It takes a lot to get fired from Chicago’s police department. A review of internal documents by the Chicago Tribune showed that a small handful of the city’s officers were overwhelmingly responsible for the majority of complaints over the last five decades. And even when complaints racked up, firing was uncommon. “In the comparatively few instances that Chicago police found wrongdoing or rule-breaking, firing officers was exceedingly rare, happening in about one-half of 1 percent of cases,” the Tribune reported.


The report comes one week after police officials proposed huge changes to department protocol that would curb officers’ use of firearms and stun guns, changes that come amid criticism that Chicago cops too readily rely on potentially deadly force. Last December, the Department of Justice launched an investigation into Chicago Police Department, and the city is struggling to rebuild trust with the community in the wake of last year’s fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager.

From 1967 to 2014, seven officers racked up more than 100 complaints, according to the Tribune, which range from civilian grievances, such as excessive force, unlawful arrest or verbal abuse, to administrative no-nos, like drinking on the job or improper maintenance of police equipment. The Tribune found that another 62 officers were responsible for at least 70 complaints.

Almost 90 percent of all complaints against officers were ultimately found unsubstantiated by the department’s internal investigatory team. One officer who has received at least 90 complaints during his career is currently serving in the high-ranking position of commander of a police district on the West Side, according to the Tribune’s analysis.

But Chicago isn’t an anomaly. A major theme of the criminal justice reform movement in the last few years has been the struggle to properly discipline police officers. Here’s a brief rundown of notable reports on other cities:



A 2014 investigation by the Justice Department into Cleveland’s police department found that 51 officers out of a 1,500-person force were disciplined between 2010 and May 2014. Investigators tasked with conducting unbiased reviews of instances of deadly force acknowledged to the DOJ that they “conduct their investigations with the goal of casting the accused officer in the most positive light possible.”

New York City

According to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which processes grievances against New York City police, 17 percent of the 36,000 officers currently on the force have received four or more complaints, but only about 10 percent of all officers have ever received at least one substantiated CCRB complaint.

In 2012, the CCRB received 5,741 complaints in total. Just 258 of those complaints were substantiated, according to a review of the data by WNYC. The review board recommended that the police department seek charges in 175 cases. Despite their recommendations, the NYPD sought charges in just seven cases.


Baltimore police failed to share more than two-thirds of police misconduct cases with the city’s Civilian Review Board from 2013 to 2015, according to an analysis by the Baltimore Sun. The Department of Justice concluded earlier this year that the department’s internal affairs bureau failed to hold police officers accountable and had been “plagued by systemic failures” for years.