The Chicago Police Department has unveiled a pilot program that will analyze records of personnel complaints, excessive force and other data to identify officers who may need intervention in the hopes of preventing events that shake the community’s trust in officers.
But experts who reviewed the department’s plan say it includes no accountability for officers who may show a pattern of problematic behavior, leaving the department without recourse to pull officers from the street or take disciplinary measures based on the information turned up by the program.
Instead, the program is promoted as an officer wellness tool, being rolled out along with another pilot program, a telehealth app that will allow officers expanded options for mental health treatment on their phones.
The wellness focus comes a little more than a month after the suicide of a high-ranking police official in July and as the department’s mental health programming has been under scrutiny for years following a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the department that found services severely lacking. Since 2018, 10 officers have died by suicide, including two this year.
The department hopes the pilot program, called Officer Support System, or OSS, will allow officials to intervene before an officer is involved in an incident that may be detrimental to their own health or to people in the community. The pilot launched Wednesday in the department’s Calumet District on the Far South Side.
CPD officials say this program is not punitive, and that they already have other systems in place to investigate allegations and discipline officers. Instead, the Officer Support System will identify officers when the problems are minor and refer them to their supervisor, which may lead to counseling or retraining.
But as renewed calls for police reform reverberate through the U.S. following recent citizen deaths at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, Rochester, New York, and Kenosha, some community stakeholders say this program does not go far enough because it may flag issues missed by traditional CPD discipline channels, but it does not allow the department to investigate patterns of abuse.
And mental health and policing experts say officers are likely to be skeptical of the program and unlikely to fully cooperate with something that appears to be based on misconduct.
“You’re putting together a program that could be well-suited to identify patterns of problematic behavior and then saying, ‘We have all this knowledge but the one thing we can’t use it for is to actually investigate and address those patterns of abuse,’” said Craig Futterman, a law professor at the University of Chicago who specializes in police accountability. “That is the very antithesis of an accountable police department.”
Early intervention programs like the OSS have been around in police departments for decades and are often recommended to cities with police departments under consent decree, experts said. They are developed to identify problems when they are small, before they turn into major issues.
The system will be a first for CPD, which has been developing the pilot program with the University of Chicago Crime Lab since 2016, officials said.
Scientists at the Crime Lab looked at hundreds of data points while developing the system, including training, commendations, assignment history, time on the job and other factors, according to Maggie Goodrich, of the University of Chicago Crime Lab.
Ultimately, they found that using complaint and excessive force data was the most useful metric for identifying problems.
“If you look at the data historically, what really is indicative of and statistically related to an adverse outcome ultimately for an officer in their career, it boiled down to some combination of complaints and use of force or misconduct of some sort,” Goodrich said.
Deputy Superintendent Barbara West said the metrics will also include factors like domestic incidents and suspensions. The OSS will scan department data each month and create a work order for a member identified by the algorithm and refer the member to supervisors, who are being trained to handle the referrals.
West said the supervisor will develop an action plan that could include training, counseling or other supportive measures.
“It’s supportive. It’s not disciplinary,” West said. “It doesn’t involve any type of sanction. It’s not a factor in performance reviews.”
But experts question the usefulness of a program that flags potentially problematic behavior but doesn’t allow the department to investigate that behavior.
“When you see triggers of potential patterns of abuse, the remedy isn’t, let’s talk to the officer. It’s, investigate it and root it out,” Futterman said. “That’s what’s fundamentally missing.”
CPD spokesman Luis Agostini said the department has “separate functioning systems of accountability that will investigate complaints of misconduct, excessive use of force or any other violation of department policy.”
In those systems, the bureau of internal affairs and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability investigate complaints made against officers on a case-by-case basis as allegations come up, Agostini said.
Futterman also questioned whether the department would make information from the OSS public to be transparent about “potential patterns of abuse and misconduct,” though CPD said the OSS will be for internal use only.
The department is unrolling the OSS as part of an overall officer wellness initiative, an area the department has been working to improve since the 2017 U.S. Department of Justice report concluded the department did not have an “overarching officer wellness plan that includes robust counseling programs, comprehensive training, functioning equipment and other tools to ensure officers are successful and healthy.”
Along with the OSS, the telehealth app will connect officers with therapists on a 24/7 basis outside of the department’s own employee assistance program.
Carrie Steiner, a former Chicago police officer who is now a therapist who treats first responders, heralded the telehealth app as a way to expand mental health offerings for officers, but questioned the effectiveness of the OSS as a mental health tool.
“That isn’t wellness, that’s accountability,” Steiner said.
Steiner said a source of stress for many officers is their supervisors, so putting sergeants in charge of fielding the issues in the OSS is unlikely to be effective, unless the officer already has a good relationship with their boss.
“If you’re my supervisor judging my mental health, I’m not going to tell you anything,” she said.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 7 President John Catanzara declined to comment.
Maria Haberfeld, a professor of law, police science and criminal justice at John Jay College, said officers are likely to view the OSS skeptically and feel stigmatized by it. She said the department would likely have a better outcome if it made sure that the whole department had the necessary training and resources to deal with stressful situations.
“It will absolutely be perceived as a punitive measure,” Haberfeld said, “as opposed to something that becomes part of mandatory training for officers.”
Futterman said CPD may be trying to “assuage two masters” in pitching the early intervention system as a wellness initiative.
“To the public, it omits the reality that we won’t use the information to get rid of officers,” he said. “To the officers, it says this is only about hand-holding and supporting officer health and wellness when at least it should also be about trying to correct behavior and address problematic behavior.”
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