Homan Square Could Be The Next Chicago Police Scandal To Get New Attention

By Mae Rice in News on Dec 10, 2015 6:04PM

The Department of Justice probe into the Chicago Police Department’s practices—which the city either needs or doesn’t need, depending how recently you asked Mayor Rahm Emanuel—could finally uncover the full extent of the police department's operations at Homan Square.

Lawsuits alleging physical and sexual abuse swirl around the facility, a one-time Sears warehouse that has become, according to a Guardian investigation , a site for secret police detentions and interrogations. Current figures, summarized in this Guardian infographic, put the number of detainees from Aug. 5, 2004 and June 30, 2015 at 7,000, at least. 82 percent of these detainees have been black (compared to 33 percent of Chicago at large).

Homan Square doesn’t make bookings public, either, making it hard for even detainees’ lawyers to track them down on the premises. “Try finding a phone number for Homan to see if anyone’s there. You can’t, ever,” Chicago attorney David Gaeger told the Guardian. “If you’re laboring under the assumption that your client’s at Homan, there really isn’t much you can do as a lawyer.”

(It's certainly not intuitive to find that phone number. Google “Homan Square phone number” and the first result is a peppy Chicago Parks District website. “Homan Square Park offers great recreation facilities, among them an Olympic size indoor swimming pool,” the site boasts. Even the Guardian hasn’t published a phone number for the facility.)

Despite the Guardian’s transparency lawsuit, information about Homan Square remains incomplete. Guardian reporters have obtained the city’s digitized Homan Square data, but the city has so far avoided digitizing its pre-2004 data.

The city has also managed to keep data on people detained at Homan Square but never charged with crimes from the public, and has dodged questions about the inconsistent data it released to the Guardian. In the Guardian’s first investigative report, police disclosed 3,500 detentions from 2004 to 2015; in the Guardian’s next report, the figure for the same time period had doubled, without explanation.

The Department of Justice investigation could shed definitive light on Homan Square’s inner workings—and at least compel the city to digitize its pre-2004 files. At this point, the truth will come out one way or another. With marching crowds demanding Emanuel’s resignation, and his new catchphrase of “accountability,” it really shouldn’t take a federal probe to get the Emanuel administration to scan documents anymore.