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Chicago Blows Through Its Earmarked Lawsuit Settlement Budget

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jan 18, 2013 5:25PM

Earlier this week City Council approved settling two police misconduct lawsuits for a combined total of nearly $33 million—a staggering figure, for certain.

ABC 7's Ben Bradley reports that number is $6 million more than what the Emanuel administration budgeted to settle lawsuits filed against the city for Fiscal Year 2013. We aren't even three weeks into the new year and already are facing a budget problem.

The $27 million lawsuit settlement allotment was earmarked for everything from slips on sidewalks to the litany of lawsuits filed against the city related to the systemic use of torture during imprisoned Police Cmdr. Jon Burge's tenure.

So how will the city cover the balance and any other lawsuits settled the rest of the year? By selling bonds. Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chair of the City Council Budget Committee, told Bradley the costs are still worth it to avoid the possibility of costlier judgments if any cases go to trial.

"With having so many Burge cases at our throats, it makes it very difficult to even predict a regular number," Austin said.

The city is under even more pressure to settle cases before they go to trial, now that the judgment against the Police Department in the Anthony Abbate civil trial established a precedent for a "code of silence" regarding police misconduct. Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated early in his term it's his wish to settle all the lawsuits against the city related to the Burge torture practices. That's going to be a lot of bonds sold.

A new UIC report, "Crime, Corruption and Cover-Ups in the Chicago Police Department," details how much the city has shelled out to settle or defend police misconduct cases. The city has settled lawsuits related to police misconduct to the tune of $82.5 million in the past 10 years, and cases related to Burge have cost the city $63 million since 1998. UIC political science professor Dick Simpson told Bradley these settlements greatly hamper the city's ability to balance a budget.

UIC professor of criminology John Hagerdorn added:

“The real problem is that an embarrassingly large number of police officers violate citizens’ rights, engage in corruption, and commit crimes while escaping detection and avoiding discipline or prosecution for many years.”

The report offers detailed recommendations on how to change the code of silence culture in the Police Department, including replacing the appointed Police Board with a democratically elected one.