Credit: Photo by Richard Stromberg, October 1982

(The headline could have been written today, but it actually appeared in August 1972. The Chicago Reporter published excerpts from the testimony of the Alliance to End Repression at a City Council hearing about police-community relations. John Hill, executive coordinator of the federation of community groups, delivered the remarks.  That year, Mayor Richard J. Daley held a conference to discuss the problem. At the conference, police Superintendent James B. Conlisk said the Chicago Commission of Human Relations would be assigned to review Internal Affairs Division files and, if necessary,  re-investigate certain cases. We are posting this story as it appeared in 1972 because more than 40 years later, as Chicago once again grapples with a “crisis of confidence” in the local criminal justice system, the issues sound disturbingly familiar.  — Susan Smith Richardson, editor and publisher)

John Hill, Executive Coordinator, Alliance to End Repression
John Hill, executive coordinator, Alliance to End Repression

When a crisis in confidence in the Chicago Police Department develops … it is usually responded to by a shakeup in department personnel, a promise to study the problem, or by a relatively unimportant policy revision.

These are all cosmetic solutions. They make the department look better, but they are not lasting. … What is needed is an effective policy-making apparatus to make the required structural changes. The Chicago Police Board could be such an apparatus …

The Board should re-examine the police regulation which permits an officer to shoot at a person fleeing from the scene of what is termed a forcible felony even though it is not clear that the person is threatening the life of anyone …

Task Force Operations

The Board ought to evaluate the present police practice of aggressive patrol, especially as practiced by the tactical units of the Special Operations Group.

These four units comb densely populated areas interrogating and frisking people who have not been charged with any offense. It has become an elite corps within the department. To what extent are the civil liberties of the people violated? Does the practice, in fact, reduce crime? If there are no studies of our Task Force operation, why aren’t there?

Failure of the I.A.D.

Much of the blame for aggressive force rests on the department’s Internal Affairs Division (its self-investigating arm). It deserves the blame. It sustains less than five percent of all complaints. A state’s attorney office with that kind of conviction record would be booted out of office. The IAD, in the first place, ought to make both the procedures and its data a matter of public record unless … the civil liberties of a police officer are involved. The IAD ought to provide an opportunity for the complainant to appeal its findings, as well as the accused policeman …

More Black and Latino Policemen

Closely related to the problem of excessive force is the problem of discrimination in the department. Police brutality problems would diminish considerably if there were many more blacks and [Latinos] in the department. Only 17% of the department is black, Someone ought to stop passing the buck to the Illinois Civil Service Commission for this situation. If the Police Department really wanted more black policemen, it could get them. While the Police Board has no authority to hire police officers, it does have authority to determine hiring policies.

Institutionalizing Reform

The Chicago Police Board dates back to the Summerdale police scandals. A board was convened to consider the problem facing the city at that time. O.W. Wilson [a former Chicago police superintendent] was a member of that board. The Chicago Police Board could have been a way of institutionalizing the reform presence of the investigating committee. In both the city ordinance and the state law it is given immense power. In the minds of many people it is known just for its function of reviewing discipline cases processed by the Internal Affairs Division of the Department. But it has three other functions. It adopts all rules and regulations necessary for the governance of the Police Department. It recommends a list of three persons for the job of superintendent when there is a vacancy in that office. And it reviews and submits to the City Council the Police Department budget.

Atrophy of Police Board

The Alliance to End Repression has been attending the monthly meetings of the Police Board for more than one year now. The Board has approved a resolution that all Police Department general orders should be made available to the public. It has appointed a two-man committee to consider the concept of civilian presence in the Internal Affairs Division. There is little else that one can remember from one year of attending meetings. No police problems were ever seriously discussed at any meetings. No studies, other than the one mentioned, were initiated by the Board. It has not done much else in the last year but rubber stamp the reports of the superintendent. The people assigned to the board by the mayor represent established labor and business rather than the interests of community groups. Only one of the members has law enforcement experience.

The Police Board represents an advanced idea in urban law enforcement: civilian responsibility for police policies. We think the most important thing the mayor can do now is to make the Chicago Police Board a reality.


We recommend that the Chicago Police Board be reorganized, specifically:

1. A Police Board Nominating Commission should be appointed by the mayor to recommend replacements when there are vacancies on the board. This commission should be composed of delegates from major organizations and community groups in Chicago. In the light of the specific problem before us, most of the community groups represented should be black and Latino.

2. The mayor and the nominating commission should set about the task of reconstituting the Police Board. Expand it to eleven members, as The Woodlawn Organization has suggested. Qualifications of present members should be evaluated and the final decision as to who should be on the board should be based on what is in the best interest of effective law enforcement and police-community relations.

3. It should be given a much larger budget, adequate staff, and office space independent of City Hall. Its present budget is $42,000. This does not permit research or travel. Even $500,000 would not be an inordinate amount to spend on policy for a department that has a budget of $250,000,000.

4. It should address itself immediately to the questions raised by Congressman Ralph Metcalfe’s citizens’ organization and to the questions raised by the Chicago Law Enforcement Study Group’s study on police killings. Since its meetings are public, it should invite the public to help it address and solve these problems.

Demands of Congressman Ralph Metcalfe and the Concerned Citizens for Police Reform

1. Stop Police Task Force type operations.

2. Establish a Citizen’s Board in each police district to review abuse cases.

3. Hire blacks in the Police Department in proportion to the black population of the city.

4. Upgrade and increase the positions held by blacks in the Police Department.

5. Immediately begin to recruit blacks for the Police Department.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.