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Police Board Mulls “Code of Silence,” Police Misconduct Case

In a rambunctious meeting of the Chicago Police Board last month, Superintendent Jody Weis announced his cooperation with Mayor Richard M. Daley’s $500,000 campaign to break the “code of silence” prevalent in many Chicago neighborhoods.

This code of silence helps to protect criminals, perpetuate retaliation and hinder police in their investigative efforts, Weis said, especially in low-income and tight-knit communities.

Weis focused on student safety in his Feb. 18 address to the small crowd, saying that many student victims tell police, “I’ll handle it myself.” Weis believes this attitude perpetuates a circle of violence, and he hopes the “Silence Kills” campaign can begin to bring an end to the code of silence with its slogan: “Stop the violence, stop the silence, because silence kills.”

The campaign, funded through federal stimulus money, includes ads in television, radio and print intended to show the brutality and lasting damage of gun crimes.

The primary purpose of police board meetings is to allow civilians a venue to air their frustrations and concerns to members of the board. Citizens who spoke at the recent meeting were largely concerned with police misconduct, specifically the case of 11-year-old Timia Williams, who was allegedly assaulted by three police officers in May 2001.

“The code of silence is justified by the fact that these officers are still on the force,” said Larry Marshall, a close family member of Williams, who said there is a serious lack of public confidence and trust in the Chicago Police Department. Marshall questioned why citizens who do not trust police officers would willingly divulge information to them, regardless of the benefits to a specific case.

Marshall’s friend George Smith, 48, spoke out against the “renegade” officers who allegedly assaulted Williams, delivering a loud and agitated speech that ranged in topic from the earthquake in Haiti to alleged police brutality on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The board itself is composed of appointed civilians who earn a salary of $15,000 per year. Board members review case files and vote on action to be taken.

During the meeting, the board announced they had overturned the department‘s recommendation to fire three officers accused of conducting illegal searches through the use of illegal warrants.

Chicago Justice Project Executive Director Tracy Siska calls this a disturbing trend.

Siska said there has been a two-thirds reduction in disciplinary action taken against police officers accused of misconduct. He heads the Justice Project in an attempt to make police department activity more accountable to the public.

Siska hopes to create more transparency in the Chicago Police Department in order to better regulate and prosecute misconduct. Civilians will eventually be able to, through the Project, trace a 911 call from answer to dispatch. Citizens will also be able to log onto the Project Web site and follow a case from start to finish, including any reports or complaints filed.

Police board members refused to answer questions from media at the meeting, and no one answered the number listed on their Web site. The answering service had one option: To file a complaint, press one.

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