New Website Aims To Make Filing Complaints Against Chicago Cops Easier

By Stephen Gossett in News on Oct 26, 2016 8:54PM

From new oversight agencies to the recent, second anniversary of Laquan McDonald’s extra-judicial killing, the topic of police accountability is never far from mind in Chicago—a city with a long, tangled history of police violence. Now, a new web tool aims to enforce police culpability by allowing Chicagoans to more simply and accurately identify officers before filing official complaints.

The tool is called OpenOversight and it was developed by local activist-technology collective Lucy Parsons Labs, the same group behind the Chicago Reader’s exposé last month of CPD’s controversial civil forfeiture tactics. The site allows users to search for key, identifying details about specific officers that will make it easier to file complaints: names, badge numbers, and estimated age, race, and gender. OpenOversight, which launched in early October and is currently in beta, consolidates that officer information (including officer photos), which is gathered from Freedom on Information requests and CPD social media accounts.

"The deck is stacked against people harmed by Chicago police," Jennifer Helsby, CTO of the Lucy Parsons Labs said in a release. "Despite a long history of proven abuses, including torture, Chicago police are almost never held accountable for misconduct or crimes they commit. To file a misconduct complaint, the burden is on the public to provide as much detailed data about the officer as possible. OpenOversight aims to empower Chicagoans with tools that make it easier to identify officers and hold them accountable."

The claim that an officer-related information-hub tool such as OpenOversight is dangerous or invasive to police is unfounded, argues Freddy Martinez, of Lucy Parsons Labs.

“ I don’t think there’s anything unusual or different in our database,” Martinez told Chicagoist. “It’s just more centralized. With police violence and abuses, including serious torture, not having more tools for transparency makes it difficult. You can wee why people are frustrated with the system as is. The more tools that are developed for accountability the better.” (The Department of Justice is conducting an ongoing investigation of the Chicago Police Department.)

Independent, technology-based tools designed to assist with oversight indeed appear to be on the rise. Excuse Me Officer, an app that allows users to search and upload encounters with police, launces in December and the Invisible Institute used Genius to create an annotated analysis of CPD Use of Force Guidelines.

“People wonder why cities themselves don’t have tools like this,” Martinez said.