After more than 200 convictions tied to the disgraced former Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts was deported amid allegations that agents tampered with evidence and extorted citizens, Northwestern University researchers say they have found a way to root out other agent networks that may be engaging in reprehensible and criminal behavior.
In a new study published Wednesday, researchers have found that police misconduct is often a “group phenomenon” that results in a disproportionately high number of arrests in minority communities.
“This article shows that we can identify possible bad cop teams using historical examples, like the Ronald Watts case, as a benchmark,” Andrew Papachristos, a sociology professor at North West, said in a communicated. “The Watts case is shaping up to be one of the biggest police corruption scandals in U.S. history, and our article shows that what we learn here may eventually help us find other cop groups. criminally oriented.”
Watts and other members of his tactical team were accused of repeatedly extorting residents and guests of the Ida B. Wells housing project for more than a decade in the early 2000s. no, the cops would have planted felony-grade amounts of drugs on them and lied about it under oath to secure convictions.
Researchers from the Northwestern Neighborhood and Network Initiative, the Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern’s Department of Sociology, and the nonprofit Invisible Institute for investigative journalism, built a statistical model that they say , can be used to identify other teams of officers who may be engaged in criminal behavior.
To do this, they analyzed three known CPD teams with a history of misconduct: the Watts team, the Skullcap Crew – five officers accused of excessive and undue force and sexual abuse and harassment against residents of public housing in the early 2000s – and the Austin Seven, who were allegedly involved in theft, extortion and drug trafficking in the early 1990s.
In the study, they analyzed the records of some 30,000 police officers from 1971 to 2018 to try to find specific groups that have an inordinate share of misconduct complaints and share certain characteristics with known teams like the one led by Watts. .
Researchers found about 160 potential officer crews. These officers represent less than 4% of all Chicago police officers, but account for a disproportionate number of use-of-force complaints and police-involved shootings.
“Crew officers were listed in 14.7% of all complaints and 23.8% of all use of force complaints,” the study said. “The accused misconduct associated with the crews also appears to be directed more at blacks than at Hispanic or white civilians.”
According to the study, these crews generated nearly 18% of all complaints filed by black Chicagoans and 14% of complaints filed by Hispanic Chicagoans. And those officers were also listed as parties in 27.3% of city awards and settlements in civil lawsuits between 1993 and 2016.
“We know that over 200 convictions have been overturned because of the Watts case alone,” Papachristos said. “If our results hold, we may be talking about thousands of Chicagoans who were directly subjected to such cop teams – and even more who were indirectly affected.”
Despite these findings, the researchers acknowledge that there are limitations.
According to the study, of the 29 officers of these three known crews, 15 were identified as crew members using the researchers’ analysis: 12 of Watts’ 17 crew members, three of the five crew members of Skullcap crew, but none of the Austin Seven.
While this research is built around the actions of these known crews, there may be others that operate very differently, but have yet to be detected. The study also doesn’t show how crews grow and develop over time.
But even so, the study “gave a tool of immediate use” to law enforcement and oversight agencies, according to Jamie Kalven, founding executive director of the Invisible Institute.
“This is a critical component of an early warning system that allows supervisors to identify groups of officers who have characteristics resembling those of officer crews known to be criminals,” said he said in a statement. “It is important to be clear: such diagrams do not in themselves constitute evidence of criminality. Rather, they are prompts for supervisors to investigate.
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