A Broken System:
Coalition’s Report on Police Harassment & Abuse of Homeless Youth in
Table of Contents
Background on the Homeless Youth Problem –
Most people are unaware of the scope of youth homelessness and the reasons youth
become homeless. On any given night in Chicago, nearly 2,000 youth experience
homelessness. Most homeless youth
have no home and no family to which they can return. There are only 120 shelter
beds for youth in the Chicagoland area, and youth face myriad obstacles to
self-sufficiency. Meanwhile, youth on the streets are met with extreme danger
and risk as they fight the odds for survival and progress. They need and deserve
ethical, competent, professional treatment from police, whose job it is “to
serve and protect.”
Documentation of Police Misconduct in the 19th and 23rd
Lakeview is a gathering spot for youth who experience
homelessness, and/or who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and/or Transgender.
These youth experience harassment and abuse by police who come from the 19th
and 23rd districts of the Chicago Police Department – patterns
which LAC members have documented. Over
18 months, LAC compiled over 112 reports of incidents of abuse and mistreatment
of homeless and/or LGBT youth which included their being stopped by police for
no reason, being threatened with assault and/or planting of drugs by police,
being slurred by officers regarding their race, gender, sexual orientation or
homelessness, being sexually harassed and propositioned by officers, having
their belongings, identification, or money confiscated by police for no reason
and never returned to them, being falsely arrested (having drugs planted on them
or having false charges filed), and being physically assaulted by police
Staff were careful to screen all complaints for
credibility, and encouraged youth to file formal complaints with the Office of
Professional Standards, the department which is instituted to investigate
officer misconduct. It is critical to note that most youth who report
experiencing mistreatment and abuse from police are hesitant to discuss it in
detail or complete incident reports for fear of reprisal, and because they feel
resigned to the abuse. Likewise, they are very frustrated with the OPS process
because it is difficult to engage, and almost never results in conclusive
findings or remedy of any kind. LAC leaders have filed, or has assisted youth in
filing several official complaints with OPS dating from spring of 2002, and NOT
ONE has moved to any conclusion.
of LAC’s Work on this Issue
fall of 2003, LAC member organizations have worked in earnest with the police
department to ameliorate the abuse experienced by youth on Lakeview streets.
This work has included numerous meetings with commanders of the 19th
and 23rd police districts and others in the police department,
including the Area Deputy Chief, the Superintendent, and his First Deputy
Superintendent and an Assistant Deputy Superintendent.
LAC leaders continued to spend time and energy on
strategies suggested by police officials, including trainings for police
officers and discussions at Sergeants meetings, only to find that the CPD Legal
Department would not allow the strategy to be implemented. Leaders organized and held a forum with the understanding
that the police officials would discuss officer accountability with the
Sergeants present, and instead police officials spoke to the community about
inappropriate youth behavior.
In short, LAC leaders jumped through all of the hoops set
up by the police in the hopes that each strategy would increase the officers’
understanding of the particular situations for the youth on the street, and that
the police harassment and abuse of youth would lessen as a result.
In fact, often just the opposite occurred.
Police would appear to increase the pressure on youth after an LAC event,
in what seemed to be retaliation. The
condition for youth on the streets has not improved after 3 years of efforts
with the police.
A System Under Scrutiny
LAC is not alone is searching for accountability in the
Chicago Police Department. Professor
Craig Futterman, of the Mandel Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School,
The Justice Coalition of Greater Chicago, Amnesty International, and other
outside experts have all found systemic weaknesses in the department’s
Today, LAC leaders call for a reduction of incidents of
harassment and abuse of youth in Lakeview by the police in the 19th
and 23rd Districts by 50% by August 2007.
LAC leaders will continue documenting reports of harassment and abuse of
youth by the police during this period. LAC
leaders ask that the commanders of the 19th and 23rd
Districts report on the strategies and tactics that they have employed locally
to meet this goal of a 50% reduction.
the Office of Professional Standards is currently in flux.
There are clear opportunities for real reform and citywide police
accountability. LAC leaders will be working in collaboration with other
organizations across Chicago towards developing a system that effectively
polices the police.
The system of police
accountability in Chicago is broken, both citywide and at the local level.
This report, A Broken System: Lakeview
Action Coalitions Report on Police Harassment & Abuse of Homeless Youth in
Lakeview, chronicles the problems in a particular community, but this issue is
felt strongly throughout the city of Chicago.
Lakeview Action Coalition (LAC) is a non-profit, multi-issue community
organization. LAC is made up of 39 institutional members, including religious
congregations, non-profit agencies, banks, business associations, a credit union
and a senior citizens caucus. These diverse institutions are stakeholders in the
Chicago communities of Lakeview, Lincoln Park and North Center. LAC stands
for justice, solidarity, and diversity.
report outlines the results of three years of activity by community leaders
through LAC to build better relationships with the local police, to understand
the accountability system as it exists, and to document the experiences of youth
on the street. Meanwhile, the
experiences that youth on the streets have with the police have not improved.
The documentation collected shows that police continue to harass homeless
and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth using racial slurs, making fun
of them because they are homeless, stopping and searching them constantly and
for no apparent reason, and on several occasions committing illegal acts like
planting drugs, stealing LINK cards and physically assaulting them.
2-Background on the Homeless Youth Problem:
Youth Homelessness is a big problem that too few people know about!
Most homeless youth carefully manage their appearance
and belongings, and conduct themselves in such a way as to “blend in” and
not attract attention. Often people are shocked to hear the real truth about the
prevalence of youth homelessness. The average age of a homeless person in the
United States of America is 9 years old. Every year in Illinois, some 26,000
youth experience homelessness. As many as ten thousand Chicago youth find
themselves homeless every year, and half of those become chronically homeless.
There are only about 120 shelter beds in Chicagoland for all those youth (and
212 in total in the state of Illinois). Only one shelter accepts youth outside
conventional business hours, and it’s always full. All of these statistics on
youth homelessness are gathered from programs that serve youth, and so it’s
almost impossible to estimate how many youth experience homelessness, since most
homeless youth can’t find services and perhaps don’t even seek them.
Homeless Youth have no “home” or family to return to!
Only 2-8% of youth served in homeless youth shelters
have a runaway report filed on them. Some 40% of homeless youth identify as
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender, and report that their families have
“disowned” them because of that. Others (some 50% of homeless youth) have
prior involvement in the child welfare system, so that they never had permanent
families or homes to begin with. Many youth became homeless when their families
are destabilized by loss of affordable housing in a community and they are
forced to move. The current
demolition of public housing in Chicago is often cited as a reason for
homelessness. The extreme paucity
of affordable housing, lack of health insurance, and jobs that don’t pay a
living wage all contribute to the rise in youth homelessness. Many homeless
youth experienced violence or other trauma that made their homes feel less safe
than the streets. Some youth maintain contact with extended family members, but
are still unable to find housing, acceptance, or safety at home. The Department
of Children and Family Services (the state child welfare organization) very
rarely takes protective custody of teenagers.
Youth are Vulnerable!
Practically all homeless youth experience violence and
exploitation regularly after becoming homeless. 61.5% of homeless youth in
Illinois reported being victims of violence in the last 12 months according to a
2005 University of Illinois at Chicago study. 26.6% unaccompanied homeless youth reported police harassment
in that report. Unaccompanied
homeless young people experience dramatically more frequent and damaging
incidences of homophobic hate crimes, robbery, identity theft, and
discrimination based on their race, gender, age, or sexual orientation, as well
as more risk of physical and sexual assault, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic
stress, and serious health problems. Homeless youth rely on each other for
safety, protection, and community, and often don’t trust adults because
they’ve been rejected or harmed by adults who were supposed to love and
protect them. Because homeless youth face such danger, and because they’re
conditioned to distrust adults, it is even more critical for them to be able to
receive dependable, professional, ethical treatment and be “served and
protected” by police.
*To find out more about youth homelessness, consult the
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless or the National Runaway Switchboard.
3-Documentation of Police Misconduct in the 19th and 23rd District:
Documentation – Breakdown of Incident Reports
In our documentation of police misconduct in the 19th and 23rd
districts, collected between November 2004, and May 2006, youth report:
Being stopped/searched for no
apparent reason: 86
Harassment (being stopped multiple
times; being told to leave neighborhood; threats of violence or of planted
drugs; verbal abuse of all kinds, including racial slurs, sexual harassment and
homophobic comments): 95
Stolen ID, LINK card, or money: 7
False arrest or drugs planted: 22
Physical Assault: 18
(Note: Numbers add up
to more than 112 because some youth reported more than one type of abuse per
the documentation was collected:
primarily came from our partner service agencies, including The Night Ministry,
Broadway Youth Center, Center on Halsted, and Youth Pride Center, who helped
their youth clients document incidents of police misconduct that they
experienced in the 19th and 23rd districts.
Service providers encouraged youth to make formal complaints with OPS
when appropriate, but respected clients’ decisions either way.
Why youth often don’t file official reports to the Office of Professional
Standards Top Reasons cited by youth include:
Don’t believe there will be any
results or anything done because of making a formal complaint; think it will be
a waste of time
Have tried to file and have been
told they can’t because they don’t have enough information or aren’t doing
Afraid of retribution from the
Lack of access to phones, mail,
Don’t know how or where to do it
Examples of Reported Incidents
(Any identifying specifics have been removed for the safety of the youth
He was alone, sitting at the Belmont Rocks when
“2 police officers from an unmarked vehicle came up to me and asked me for my
identification. I gave them my social security card which was all I had. They
then searched me and told me I was arrested, handcuffed me and took me to their
car. They took me north of Foster beach where they met up with 2 other police
officer and then pulled me out to the car. All 4 of them hit and kicked me while
I was still in the handcuffs. When they were done they took the handcuffs off of
me and got in their cars and left.
They never told me why I was arrested.”
The youth sustained injuries of cracked ribs and
a busted knee. He went to Illinois Masonic
emergency room after he was injured. He was not
taken to a police station and the officers made no known record of the stop.
”I was handcuffed by security for supposedly
shoplifting. Two police officers arrived; they smacked my face, then punched me
in the chest, searched my wallet and confiscated my LINK card, then released
”I first became homeless when I was 17 when I
got kicked out of my parent’s home by my stepmother…My first incident with
the police occurred in the summer of 2002, while I
was staying at the Open Door Shelter. I heard
that there was going to a mini hot-rod auto show at the McDonald’s on Addison
in their parking lot. I went up there to take a look. While I was up there
looking at the cars, I had an epileptic seizure. Two police officers were there
and saw me go into the seizure. They claimed that I intended to destroy
property. I don’t remember everything when I have seizures, but when I came
to, I was being handcuffed. I tried to tell them that I was epileptic and just
had a seizure, but they didn’t listen. They put the handcuffs on me way too
tight and my hands hurt really badly. They put me in the back of the police car
and I kept telling them that the cuffs were too tight but they just told me to
shut up. I then spent 12 hours in the 19th District’s lock-up at Belmont and
Western and they released me at midnight. Eventually, when I went to court,
these charges were dropped.”
”I feel that I have been profiled repeatedly
because I am young, male, and homeless and because I have a chronic medical
condition. I have never broken the law and I don’t have a criminal record, yet
I have been harassed by the police and stopped and searched for no reason.”
A young black woman reported, “3 officers
illegally entered my apartment. One officer stole my $1500 refund check money
from college and went in my purse and stole my drivers’ license. He said they
were looking for my boyfriend.”
Demographics of youth
who submitted reports on incidents of police harassment and abuse
all youth answered all demographic questions)
Male: 68, Female: 27
Lesbian: 6, Gay: 15, Bisexual: 17, Transgender: 10, Straight: 32
Ages 14-18: 25
Ages 19-25: 58
Ages 26-above: 13
African American: 40
The Chicago Coalition For the Homeless, The Night Ministry and Lakeview
Action Coalition Police Misconduct Survey
We are collecting stories about youth experiences with
the police in the Lakeview community and surrounding area.
THIS SURVEY IS ANONYMOUS. We
ask for a first name to prevent double counting.
Please circle or fill in the answer:
FIRST NAME: ____________________________
SEXUAL ORIENTATION: __________
RACE/ETHNIC IDENTITY: Black Latino
Please tell us about a specific interaction you had with
a police officer:
1. When did this occur?
______month _______ day _______year _________am./p.m
2. Where did it happen?
3. Who was there?
_______________________________________________________________ Officer sex:
Male Female Officer(s) age: ________ Officer
Car number: ____________________________
4. Did anyone see what happened?
5. Were you searched? Yes
Were you questioned? Yes No
Were you arrested? Yes
Were you put in a squad car? Yes
Were you taken to the police station?
Yes No Which station? _________________________
6. Did the officer call you a
racial slur? Yes
What did the officer call
Did the officer call you names because of your sexual orientation? Yes
What did the officer call you? __
Did the officer hit you? Yes
Were you hurt by the officer? Yes
you have any comments about the incident please write them on the back.
THANK YOU FOR
COMPLETING THIS SURVEY.
4-History of LAC's Work on this Issue
Many LAC member organizations work closely with homeless and at-risk youth every
day. They provide a variety of
services, including direct assistance with food and other survival needs,
counseling, housing, and activism and affinity groups. They provide a community
where the youth can experience safety, structure, and practical and emotional
support. For years, those who work directly with the youth have heard reports
and seen the results of police abuse and misconduct against the youth. The range
of these abuses is highlighted in Chapter 3.
In May 2004, LAC
leaders met with Gary Yamashiroya, the Commander of the 23rd
District, to discuss this problem and possible solutions. Leaders described incidents of improper police interactions
with the youth. The commander focused on the behavior of youth in the community,
which has been a common response from the police through the years, and did not
speak of any accountability measures that he could implement. However, meetings
with the commander continued, with a focus on trying to find common ground. In
June, LAC initiated a similar dialogue with the commander of the 19th
District, who retired soon after.
ineffectiveness of OPS has been well documented by other groups and is discussed
in Chapter 5 of this report. One of
the main problems with the OPS system is that people – police officers and
citizens alike - do not see it as an effective or safe means to hold officers
accountable for inappropriate behavior. Not only do complaints remain unresolved
for years, but the accused officers remain on the streets.
Homeless youth are particularly vulnerable to retribution, since they
often do not have a safe place to go at night, and they are required to sign
their names when they make an OPS complaint.
There are also very credible reports of retribution for filing a
complaint against an officer. For that reason, most youth do not report abuse to
July, LAC convened a public meeting with 200 community members. As a result of
this meeting, Commanders Yamashiroya and George Rosebrock (19th
District) agreed to address officer misconduct at the “roll call” meetings
that take place during officer shift changes, to meet with LAC leaders monthly,
and to work together with LAC to develop officer training. In addition, Alderman
Tunney agreed to continue working with us on this issue.
Skahill suggested instead that the district Commanders convene meetings of their
sergeants and invite LAC leaders to speak about homeless youth and the abuse
that we were documenting. This idea
was rejected by the General Counsel a few weeks later. LAC leaders began to feel
as though they were spending time jumping through hoops, with no concrete
improvements for youth on the streets.
May 2006, LAC leaders agreed to work with ADS Skahill and Commanders Yamashiroya
and George Rosebrock (19th District) to plan a community forum. At
the forum, LAC leaders were to educate Sergeants of the 19th and 23rd
Districts about youth homelessness and the Commanders were to reinforce
the responsibility of sergeants to hold officers accountable for consistent use
of appropriate police procedures, especially during street stops of youth, and
of the tools that supervisors have been given to do so.
members would be present so they could also witness the sergeants being told how
to hold their officers accountable, something that no LAC leaders could be sure
had ever happened.
forum took place on July 10, 2006. In
some ways it was a success – at least 20 sergeants from the two districts were
present, as well as the two Commanders, the Deputy Chief for Area 3 (who
supervises the 19th and 23rd Districts), ADS Skahill and
about 40 community members. When it
came time for the police officials to relay their expectations to the sergeants,
however, they instead addressed the community members present. They expressed
doubts about the truthfulness of youth reports of police abuse, stated that
police officers regarded all youth on the streets as potential criminals, and
once again suggested that the best approach for addressing police misconduct was
to file complaints with OPS or to press for an investigation by an outside body
such as the U.S. Justice Department. Despite a clearly negotiated agreement,
police officials did not publicly state their expectation that sergeants are
expected to hold officers accountable for consistent use of police procedures,
especially during street stops of youth.
the weeks immediately following the forum there was a clear backlash against the
youth and the organizations serving the youth. Police cars were noticed more
frequently circling or parked in front of youth-service agencies. In addition,
police began appearing repeatedly at a youth outreach event that has been taking
place on the corner of Belmont and Halsted Streets every Tuesday and Friday for
the past eight years. This
behavior intimidated the youth in attendance and deterred them from receiving
the services they needed.
from religious congregations and a Night Ministry outreach van park in a bus
stop on the corner, serve sandwiches, and give information about local services
to passersby, especially at-risk and homeless youth. Starting on July 11 and
continuing for the next several weeks, police converged on that event each night
it was in operation, scaring off youth, ticketing or threatening to ticket
volunteers’ cars, and demanding that the program change locations. On several
occasions, arrests were made, and on one evening a youth was handcuffed, beaten
by several officers and arrested. Youth in the community noted increased
harassment and attention by the police when visiting this event and other
the conversations were happening about the training idea at higher levels within
the Chicago Police Department in late 2005 and early 2006, LAC leaders were
working with youth service providers to document reports by youth of police
misconduct and abuse. The results of that documentation are reported in Chapter
3 of this report. Each month, LAC leaders met together with Commanders
Yamashiroya and Rosebrock to present summaries of reports documented in the past
month and to press the commanders to take steps to deal with what leaders had
come to term a “culture of abuse” within the 19th and 23rd
misconduct reports were stripped of identifying information because service
providers promised confidentiality to youth who provided them. In addition, the
Commanders informed LAC leaders that if they were given identifying information
such as date, time and location, they would have to open an investigation into
the incidents and could no longer discuss them. Instead, LAC leaders agreed to
provide the commanders general reports of street incidents each month, and the
commanders agreed to address them in officer “roll calls” at the beginning
of each shift. LAC leaders hoped this would decrease the most pervasive problem
experienced by youth – harassment in the form of racial slurs, rude statements
about sexual orientation or gender identity, being cursed and yelled at, and
being stopped and searched for no apparent reason. This strategy also failed to yield positive results. Although
the commanders reported that each month they spoke to their officers at roll
call meetings, conditions for youth on the streets did not improve.
narrative outlines nearly three years of work, done by hundreds of community
residents, local clergy, homeless youth and their service providers, lawyers and
other allies. While the meetings
and actions have exposed an issue that has existed in the community for years,
the youth on the streets in Lakeview have not benefited from an improved
relationship with the police. While
relationships have been developed between youth and other community
stakeholders, including police officers, the culture of abuse is still evident
within districts 19 and 23 of the Chicago Police Department.
5-A System Under Scrutiny
Lakeview Action Coalition
is not alone. Over the past decade, numerous respected community organizations
and experts have issued reports documenting police abuse and misconduct in
Chicago and have called on the city to repair or replace its failed system for
holding officers accountable.
Professor Craig Futterman,
of the Mandel Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School, analyzed 10,150
citizen complaints of excessive force, illegal arrest, illegal searches, and
racial and sexual abuse from 2002-2004. Officers received disciplinary
suspensions of seven days or more in only 18 of those cases. Futterman, who
represents a citizen suing the Chicago Police Department for misconduct, also
found that 5 percent of officers accounted for almost 45% of all 18,000
complaints during the same time period. Yet those officers were no more likely
than any other to be disciplined with a suspension of seven days or more.
The Justice Coalition of
Greater Chicago, Amnesty International, and other outside experts have all found
systemic weaknesses in the department’s disciplinary system. In a recent
analysis for a case against the department, Lou Reiter, a former deputy chief of
the Los Angeles Police Department, concluded that problem officers feel a sense
of impunity because Chicago police officials have intentionally not implemented
an effective system to identify them. In a deposition in the same case, Brian
Netols testified that in 18 corrupt officer cases he prosecuted in Chicago as an
assistant U.S. attorney, he encountered a “blue wall of silence,” in which
officers failed to report or stop criminal activities by fellow officers and
refused to cooperate in criminal investigations.
The Justice Coalition of
Greater Chicago, an alliance of more than 70 civic, religious, legal,
educational, business, and community organizations and concerned individuals,
identified similar systemic weaknesses, and in 2001 issued a 12 Point Plan for
reform. The Coalition recommended that the Chicago Police Department do a better
job identifying, monitoring, and counseling officers who develop a pattern of
complaints, that measures be taken to protect officers who report misconduct by
their colleagues, and that citizens be permitted to file complaints anonymously.
Finally, in its 2005
“Stonewalled” report, Amnesty International expressed concern that lack of
public trust in police internal oversight, combined with fear of retaliation
suggests that many people don’t make complaints about police abuse and
misconduct. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth and LGBT homeless
people are among those least likely to come forward with complaints, the report
Action Coalition has been attempting to collaborate with officials within the
Chicago Police Department for the past three years, developing and implementing
strategies that have not met the goal of improving the situation for youth on
the streets, and improving the relationship between the police and local youth.
LAC leaders call for a reduction of incidents of harassment and abuse of youth
in Lakeview by the police in the 19th and 23rd Districts
by 50% by August 2007.
LAC leaders ask that the
commanders of the 19th and 23rd Districts report on the
strategies and tactics that they have employed locally to meet this goal of a
Office of Professional Standards is currently in flux. Its director stepped down
in October. A search firm is seeking replacement candidates, who will be
reviewed by a panel headed by former Chicago Police Superintendent Terry
Hillard. The panel includes several outspoken OPS critics, and may provide an
opening to look at the accountability system as a whole. There are clear
opportunities for real reform and citywide police accountability. LAC leaders
will be working in collaboration with other organizations across Chicago towards
developing a system that effectively polices the police.