The Village of Oak Park’s Police Oversight Commission recently released figures covering a three-year period, 2004-’06. Those figures show 59 citizen complaints regarding police misconduct, covering a total of 114 alleged rule violations.

The report breaks down conclusions into four categories, including “sustained,” which indicates “sufficient evidence to justify disciplinary action.” The other three levels of preclude any discipline. “Not sustained” indicates there was “insufficient evidence” to either prove or disprove an allegation. “Exonerated” indicates the alleged incident did, in fact, occur, but was “lawful and proper” whereas “unfounded” indicates the allegation was determined to be “false or not factual.”

Of the 114 alleged violations, 20, or 17.6 percent, were sustained and led to disciplinary action against police officers. Eleven of those instances involved either discourtesy to the public or neglect of duty or unsatisfactory performance. In 10 of those 11 instances disciplinary measures were taken against officers.

The police oversight commission, which serves as an advisory committee to the village board, was established in 1991 in response to ongoing racial tensions in the village and charges that Oak Park police were insensitive to minorities, particularly African-Americans.

Low complaint vs. contact ratio

Police Chief Rick Tanksley said Tuesday he was pleased but not totally satisfied with the figures.

“This is a good report, I think,” he said. “The very nature of our job brings us in contact with people under less-than-ideal circumstances,” adding the caveat, “still, we have some work to do.”

Frank Spataro, the village’s human resource director and secretary on the committee, called the small number of complaints filed in relation to the total number of police conducts in any given year “remarkable.”

“In 2004, there were 57,688 citizen contacts resulting from traffic stops, field interrogations and calls for service,” wrote Spataro, “from which only 24 complaints were filed.”

A total of 46 potential departmental rule violations were identified from those 24 complaints, of which 11 violations were sustained. Over the three-year period, 20 of 114 alleged violations were upheld out of 177,444 total contacts between police and civilians. The first year of the report, 2004, had the highest number of alleged rule violations and sustained violations.

“With a lot of these [departmental] rules, if you violate one, you violate others as well,” said Tanksley.

Three-fourths of all rule violations were alleged by African-Americans, two-thirds by men and one-third by women. Female whites accounted for 20 percent of all complaints, while male whites accounted for 13 percent. As for the targets of rule violation allegations, 53 percent were white male officers, 29 percent were black male officers. Female white officers accounted for 11 percent, with 4 percent directed at Asian male officers.

African-American and Hispanic males represent 16 percent of all sergeants and patrol officers (8 percent for each).

The largest number of complaints involved alleged discourtesy to members of the public (nearly 32 percent) followed by perceived neglect of duty or unsatisfactory performance at 17 percent.

Tanksley said those categories involve instances where “the officer fell short of doing what they were required to do under the circumstances.” That might be not writing a ticket, not making an arrest, or not questioning individuals or investigating a situation fully. He said all citizens complaints are investigated thoroughly.

“We go to people’s homes. We track these down,” Tanksley said.

None of the 20 sustained charges over those three years led directly to any discipline more severe than a three-day suspension, though two officers eventually resigned under pressure.

“There was a three-day suspension for an officer being out of his beat area without permission,” said Internal Affairs Sergeant Mike Richardson. “That came from a citizen complaint.”

Richardson said citizen complaints also led to eventual charges against two former Oak Park police officers.

“It was a citizen complaint regarding discourtesy and rudeness that led to an investigation into Officer Mani Adams,” said Richardson. In that instance, Adams reportedly verbally abused a citizen while off duty at a basketball game at Ascension School. When police investigated, they learned Adams was an associate of a man found to have been driving a hijacked truck in December, 2005. Further investigation led to 19 departmental charges against Adams, his eventual resignation and his conviction on federal charges related to the hijacking. He’s currently in federal prison.

“Were it not for that citizen complaint, we wouldn’t have known about that truck driver,” said Richardson.

Tanksley noted that citizen complaints led to departmental charges and the eventual resignation of former Sergeant Gregory Hines in 2006. Hines was charged with seven violations, including soliciting a gratuity.

Tanksley added he was very satisfied with the near lack of complaints alleging civil rights violations (2) and racial profiling (3), which represented less than 5 percent of complaints. All five instances were determined to be unfounded.

An African American, Tanksley was a sergeant in 1991 when the department was troubled by racial tensions and the widely held belief that the few black officers on the force had little chance for advancement . He said the difference over the past 17 years has been remarkable, particularly in terms of racial diversity and its effects on officer conduct.

“[These figures] tell me we’ve made great leaps in that time in terms of the professionalism of this department,” he said. “We have a diverse force. Officers know they’re expected to behave professionally.”

He acknowledged that his department couldn’t satisfy everyone, noting, “Some people are just going to be angry with the service they receive.” The key was each officer’s attitude toward the job.

“It’s all about treating people fairly.”

CONTACT: bdwyer@wjinc.com

Occurance of alleged rule violations 2004-06

36 Courtesy to general public

19 Neglect of duty/unsatisfactory performance

13 Performance of duty/personal conduct: use of force

11 Abuse of authority

11 Conduct unbecoming an officer or employee

9 Obediance to laws, rules and regulations, policies, procedures and directives

4 Weapons

3 Racial profiling

2 Truthfulness

2 Identification

2 Civil Rights

1 Misuse official position

1 Gratuities

1 Police referrals

1 Knowledge of laws, rules and regulations, policies, procedures and directives

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