Chicago Police Settlements Cost Taxpayers $210 Million Plus Interest

A new database reveals the city paid off 655 lawsuit settlements over four years, often using borrowed money.
Chicago Police officer yells at reporters and photographers to get back as officers take into custody a protester during a sc
Chicago Police officer yells at reporters and photographers to get back as officers take into custody a protester during a scuffle at a bicycle barricade on Chicago's Magnificent Mile on Dec. 24, 2015.

As the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling at the hands of police officers stir up national debate on law enforcement practices, a new database unveils hundreds of Chicago Police Department misconduct lawsuit settlements between 2012 and 2015 ― costing a whopping $210 million in total and revealing yet another financial burden on taxpayers.

“Settling for Misconduct,” an extensive database from The Chicago Reporter published this week, highlights allegations of Chicago’s excessive policing methods, ranging from false arrest to unwarranted killing, particularly in Latino and black communities, leading to 655 settlements in four years.

Multimillion-dollar police misconduct settlements, such as the one stemming from the killing of Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald, tend to garner national attention. But the database reveals that the City of Chicago pays much smaller sums of money to plaintiffs on an average of every other day. The average payment was just $36,000.

The City of Chicago settled 86 percent of the lawsuits against the police department. However, as the database’s front page introduction says, “The city may pay, but a settlement is not an admission of guilt.”

The frequency of payment raises the question of whether the police department is using money the city doesn’t have to cover up or wave away instances of misconduct.

To pay for these lawsuit settlements, Chicago had to borrow money using long-term bonds ― interest on which taxpayers could be paying for the next 30 years. Chicagoans will expect to pay double the cost of the settlements in interest, The Chicago Reporter revealed.

Following Illinois’ recent budget crisis, such costly settlements pose additional and unnecessary financial pressure on taxpayers. Chicago residents not personally involved with police brutality will still have to pay for their city’s officers alleged wrongdoings, emphasizing the idea that everyone is a victim in these lawsuits, not just the plaintiffs involved.

“We’re a publication that is focused on race, poverty and income inequality, and I think those are the lenses that we look at police misconduct through ... but we were looking to broaden the lens to see how police misconduct affects everyone in the city in a fiscal way,” lead reporter Jonah Newman said.

In addition to underlining the lawsuits’ widespread financial impact, the database holds police officers accountable by including the names of officers involved, allegation details, addresses of incidents and settlement amounts ― detailed information gathered from the City of Chicago Law Department’s public records, with very little contribution from the police department itself.

“They [the police department] put the onus on the city’s law department ... and I think that was part of the problem,” Newman said.