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LaQuan McDonald case: Three suggestions for state action

Monday, Nov 30, 2015 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Here’s what the Chicago Police Department told the media after LaQuan McDonald was killed by a police officer 13 months ago: A drug-addled black kid lunged at a cop with a knife and was then shot in the chest.

Six months later, and a week after Chicago’s mayoral election, the City Council rushed through approval of a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family, even though no lawsuit had been filed.

Seven months after that, the city finally released the dashboard video from a Chicago police car which clearly showed McDonald walking away from the police when he was shot 16 times—and almost all of those shots were fired as he lay bleeding to death on the pavement.

In addition to the officer who shot him, everybody failed that kid, from his own mother, who lost custody of LaQuan after her boyfriend savagely beat him; to the state’s Department of Children and Family Services, which was supposed to protect and help him as his legal ward; to the city’s mayor, who covered up the gruesome manner of McDonald’s death by fighting the release of the dashboard video; to the City Council, for not demanding answers before approving such a huge settlement; to the mainstream media, for not following up on their denied Freedom of Information Act requests with a lawsuit; to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, for her all-too-usual slow-walking of investigations of alleged police misconduct; to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who waited until days before a judge finally acted to claim that the city had violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act by sitting on the video.

Other states take much better care of their young wards. Yes, that can be expensive. But if caring for the kids nobody else wants isn’t one of the state’s most important responsibilities, I don’t know what the heck is.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, LaQuan was sexually molested in two different foster homes that were chosen, vetted and paid for by the state.


If that doesn’t boggle your mind and enrage your very soul, then absolutely nothing will.

Other states release their police dashboard and body cam videos much, much faster than Illinois. While that may lead to some unrest in the streets, it’s infinitely more democratic and honest than our far too encumbered, lumbering process, which overwhelmingly favors the political interests of those who run things.

Citizens can’t hold politicians accountable if they are deliberately kept in the dark, so Chicagoans deserved the right to know about McDonald’s death before they voted last spring.

And most other states license their police officers.

According to an article in Police Chief magazine, 44 states license police officers and have a statewide process for revoking those licenses.

Illinois does neither, but it’s not for lack of trying.

Earlier this year when the General Assembly was debating law enforcement reforms, police licensure was a hot topic. But, according to its chief sponsor, Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), the idea was derailed by the House Republicans. The proposal was dropped in order to achieve a bipartisan victory on some much-needed reforms like body cams and police training.

Cops have an almost impossible job, particularly in Chicago. Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 23, there have been 2,712 Chicago shooting victims, according to the Chicago Tribune. I wouldn’t want to be a Chicago cop for any amount of money.

The number of fatal shootings by Chicago police (70 in five years) pales in comparison to the total of all shootings. For most, our first instinct is to back the police. It’s a natural reaction. They’re our protectors, so we want to believe they are just and good people, and most definitely are.

But more citizens, particularly in high crime areas, have more contact with the police than they do with any other government employees. And, of course, the cops carry guns and are allowed to use them. In Chicago, official discipline of bad cops is so rare as to be almost non-existent, according to some recent studies. It’s a problem that screams for a remedy from above.

We need to do a better job as a state. The nightmare at DCFS needs to be addressed before the government makes more kids’ lives even worse.

Our Freedom of Information Act should no longer be a freedom from information law.

And we as a state should revisit the police licensing issue, since Chicago apparently can’t seem to take care of this very real problem on its own.


…Adding… The attorney general’s office is adamant that “we did our jobs” in this case and they sent along their early November memo as proof. Click here and decide for yourself.


  1. - Downstate - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 8:53 am:

    With all due respect, I think you left out the FOP. The process for getting rid of bad cops is so onerous, that the department continues to keep officers, like LaQuan’s killer, on the force.

  2. - PublicServant - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 8:55 am:

    ===the idea was derailed by the House Republicans.===

    Who? And their stated reasons for opposition, if you don’t mind, Rich?

  3. - Very Fed Up - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 8:57 am:

    Great column Rich. Providing resources for these kids should never be a partisan issue. Hopefully this case can shine a spotlight on it. The whole case stinks from the Mayors office on down.

  4. - Rich Miller - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 8:58 am:

    ===I think you left out the FOP===

    No, I didn’t. The licensing would supersede union contracts.

  5. - Keyrock - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:00 am:

    One other state law that needs to be reexamined is the so-called police officer bill of rights.
    It gives extraordinary protections to officers. While there are special factors that should be considered in police discipline, the balance drawn by that statute, and by the FOP contract, goes too far in protecting rogue officers.

  6. - Abe the Babe - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:00 am:

    Failure at all levels. This will probably doom Alvarez as it should but I worry Rahm will survive this by simply firing McCarthy. He needs to be held accountable.

    I read somewhere that as of the time of the press conference Rahm claims to not have viewed the video. Are you kidding me? How can the mayor of Chicago who seemed to prepare that press conference and the days leading up to it with political precision not spend the time to view that video? Videos don’t always tell 100% of the story but that one told about 90% of it. The police actions to hide it spoke the other 10%.

  7. - JS Mill - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:02 am:

    = The nightmare at DCFS needs to be addressed=

    I agree with everything that you stated in your column, but more than anything else I agree with your statements regarding DCFS. Those that are sent to DCFS for care are literally our most vulnerable citizens. Literally. I am sure there are good people there but the institution is an abject failure. Caring for children who have been abandoned, abused, or neglected is a societal responsibility and an investment in our future. Dramatic change is needed.

  8. - Anon - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:02 am:

    A great column about a terrible thing.

    ===We need to do a better job as a state. The nightmare at DCFS needs to be addressed before the government makes more kids’ lives even worse.===

    The structural reform, evaluation, and implementation that would need to take place to correct the issues at DCFS would require more than just additional funding, but new leadership, new polices, new administrative rules, and very likely it would require bringing in new employees, and building a bureaucracy that has the ability to implement, evaluate, correct, and implement again on an on going basis.

    That’s simply not the kind of government that we’re used to having in Springfield and it’s a real challenge and it might simply be beyond legislators that can’t wrap their heads around the budget issue, or that assumed failing to enact a budget would create a government shut down.

    We simply may not be electing the leaders that give us the kind of government our children deserve — but as long as we continue to tolerate this, the body politic is getting the government it deserves.

  9. - Keyrock - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:02 am:

    Rahm wanted more-or-less plausible deniability about seeing the video. After hearing about it, he may have told his buffers not to show it to him.

  10. - Bruce Rushton - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:02 am:

    “Our Freedom of Information Act should no longer be a freedom from information law.”


  11. - Cubs in '16 - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:05 am:

    There are thousands of stories like LaQuan’s but most don’t come to light like this one has. As Rich has pointed out, this is a systemic problem starting from the family he was born into to the DCFS system, court system, political system, and the law enforcement system; all of which failed him. People within all of these systems know this goes on yet nothing ever changes. When these failures end up literally costing a life, the system conspires to hide it from public consumption. Somehow, the people who hold the power to change this system have to find their moral compass and get their priorities straight.

  12. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:05 am:

    Great work, Rich, very sobering.

    Transparency is never transparency when months pass and basic factual information that we’d expect to be available is withheld for no reason but to keep from the light the failures we will eventually learn.

  13. - A guy - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:07 am:

    The entire system failed. The entire system is in need of an overhaul. Saddening and maddening.

  14. - Honeybear - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:09 am:

    Really good column. It’s shaming for all of us. But I wonder why it seems that so few people feel shame anymore? Let alone actually do something to correct the shaming event. We’ve got to get our act together. I think we’ve got to correct the “real politic” of “the strong will do as they will and the weak will suffer what they must”, just to stay in office/power/control.

  15. - ottawa otter - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:12 am:

    Total agreement. Would add, though, Illinois needs an impeachment statute for all elected officials. It is incredible that this Mayor is beyond reach. For that matter, the voters in podunk don’t have the recourse to remove a lowly school board member, even a library trustee. Accountability?

  16. - Gruntled University Employee - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:16 am:

    ==But if caring for the kids nobody else wants isn’t one of the state’s most important responsibilities, I don’t know what the heck is.==

    The Turnaround Agenda, just ask the Governor.

  17. - Cathartt Representative - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:19 am:

    I feel like there are three separate issues at reform)play;

    1. DCFS (The system needs reform)
    2. The shooting (Need to do something about rogue cops)
    3. The cover up (Public officials including McCarthy, Alvarez, and Emmanuel need to go.)

    The problem here is much bigger than one bad cop.

  18. - NoGifts - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:20 am:

    Don’t we take pride in having the fewest government employees per capita in the nation? We’re the 10th lowest. Do people understand that the number of DCFS workers and state employees are related? Aren’t we getting the service we’re paying for?

  19. - We Don't Need No Stinkin' Licenses - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:22 am:

    Not sure what a state license for cops would accomplish. They have that in Missouri, where there are plenty of bad cops nonetheless.

    What might work better would be protocol written into statute with regard to what must be done in the aftermath of an officer-involved shooting. At a minimum, jurisdictions, within 72 hours of any officer-involved shooting, should be required to release the name, or names, of the officer or officers who fired as well as summaries of the officer(s) disciplinary history or histories, including the number of complaints made, the number of complaints upheld and the nature of complaints (excessive force, rude behavior, etc.). Departments should also be required to release records of any settlements made in response to complaints about the officer(s) in question. There should also be some mechanism to force the timely release of pertinent video or audio recordings.

    All of this should be done automatically, without any need for FOIA requests. In case of unusual circumstances, and there sometimes are unusual circumstances, then departments should be able to ask a judge to hold the requirements in abeyance, but there had better be good reasons, and the reasons should be outlined in open court, with plenty of notice to the public.

    The problem with licensing is, we would, again, be trusting cops to police cops, given that licensing authorities in other states tend to be run by folks with law enforcement backgrounds. We don’t need another bureaucracy in Illinois. We need to hold the police and our elected leaders accountable, and the best way to hold people accountable is to make public what they do, both good and bad. FOIA is so full of holes as to be no guarantee of daylight when it comes to police shootings–look how long it took for the lawsuit in Chicago to force transparency–and so we either need to fix the law (unlikely) or carve out procedures that must be followed when cops pull triggers.

    All this said, Rich is right. Most cops are good, and so they should welcome procedures that will help build accountability and perhaps get bad cops off the streets. That sort of thing builds trust and would seem to make the jobs of good cops that much easier.

  20. - blue dog dem - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:24 am:

    we,the voters in the Windy City, should be demanding the resignation of the RAHN Man. I am embarrassed to say I voted for this immoral career politician. Sorry.

  21. - OutHereInTheMiddle - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:25 am:

    The act itself is appalling, tragic & criminal.

    The absolute lack of responsibility, oversight, and accountability is terrifying.

  22. - girlawyer - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:27 am:

    Does anyone know who the “family” was that got the $5 million in hush money? I truly hope it wasn’t the mother who turned a blind eye to her boyfriend beating the boy. If only we could find a way to use our resources for caring for our children instead of spending it to cover up killing them.

  23. - Not quite a majority - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:27 am:

    DCFS is a nightmare that keeps recurring. It’s under so many court orders that they probably need a staff attorney just to sort them all out and they STILL let children ’slip through the cracks’ (which is a useless phrase to describe this kind of ineptitude). But as you mention, taking care of these kids takes money and that’s not what either side of the aisle wants to hear. It’s so much easier to pay a settlement when the bad stuff happens. So very sad. Thanks Rich. You nailed it.

  24. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:28 am:

    - df -,

    Either add to the discussion or keep your “thoughts” to yourself.

    You’re not helping.

  25. - old pol - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:28 am:

    Licensing is not enough. You also need no-pay status when license is suspended or revoked. The unions (FOP) resist any pay status change during investigations that can take years sometimes. There needs to be a change in the law that allows suspensions without pay in “appropriate” cases. Such is the case with most other professions. The employer (city) should not have to wait on the State’s Attorney, AG, or Feds to fire or put someone on no pay status. If they have sufficient evidence of wrongful conduct they should be able to move forward asap without the often used excuse “we are waiting on someone else’s investigation”.

  26. - Atbat - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:29 am:

    Everyone should see the movie, Spotlight, which explores the intersections of catastrophic systemic failure in government, legal /cultural / religious institutions and the media. We have this systemic failure in Chicago concerning the treatment of troubled youth, policing and the social programs in place to serve and protect us all.

  27. - Soccermom - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:30 am:

    When we as a state take children away from their families, we are making a pledge to do better with them than their families had done. Sadly, that is a pledge we fail to honor, again and again.

  28. - Wensicia - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:31 am:

    As long as our public officials put cover up before problem solving, nothing will be done regarding abuses by bad cops or destructive state programs. They’d rather hide behind a rogue cop (and hide from the press) than offer solutions.

  29. - Amalia - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:40 am:

    as we wait for substantive comments and action from U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon, one would hope that his analysis, and potential action, could include some of these questions.

  30. - wordslinger - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:42 am:

    None of these things will happen when governing is viewed as only a tool to advance political agendas, as is the case in Springfield right now.

  31. - Anon - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:42 am:

    Illinois does have a certification process for officers, overseen by its Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board. Officers can be decertified too, including if they are convicted of a felony.

  32. - RetiredStateEmployee - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:43 am:

    And it is going to take money. Nobody wants to be taxed more. Nobody wants to spend more. But we are outraged at the failure of our systems. Unfortunately we get what we paid for and this governor wants to spend less. How does anyone think it will get better until we agree that government is necessary and that good government cost money?

    As an aside, I have a friend who has been displaced from his family now for 6 months awaiting a DCFS investigation. It should have been resolved quickly but.. It is a travesty for all those unlucky enough to be involved with that agency.

  33. - Alexander Cut The Knot - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:46 am:

    Condition the EDGE credit on making investments in these communities and target grants for training people from the communities for the jobs created. Jobs and self-respect that comes from them will do more for longer than the also badly needed band-aids of better DCFS and policing. If no one claims the credits, that will say a lot about the committment of the business community to this City / State, and it will more than justifiy higher business taxes with receipts targeted at these problems.

  34. - VanillaMan - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:47 am:

    This is a far more complicated situation and reflects a myriad of balances between communities and police, communities and government services and communities and children. To address this requires the cooperation of many groups. In each stage of this young man’s life, there is the failure of a community group. There is no harmony between them, even when it is “for the kids”. That is a problem, and it is also a structural feature.

    The proposal was dropped in order to achieve a bipartisan victory on some much-needed reforms like body cams and police training. So much needed reforms were accomplished, but not Kwame Raoul’s. He blames his failures on others, yet we see here bipartisanship and success. His blame upon the GOP should not have been accepted as an answer, as though the GOP had no reason for doing what they did. Nonsense. Something went wrong beyond mere partisanship.

    But more citizens, particularly in high crime areas, have more contact with the police than they do with any other government employees. While I believe that citizens in high crime areas have more contact with the police than citizens in low crime areas, I find it hard to believe that needy citizens have more contact with police than they do with government services where they obtain their daily living, monthly expenses and educate their children. Police may be recognized as government, there are dozens of other government servants assisting the daily lives of this population.

    We need to do a better job as a state. The nightmare at DCFS needs to be addressed before the government makes more kids’ lives even worse. What kind of a state can make all these variable community groups and government services work harmoniously? While DCFS is overwhelmed by the magnitude of the complete collapse of functioning families in Illinois, it is not their mission to make children worse off. I don’t hear anyone at DCFS making a claim that they don’t need help.

    How can we expect a state government to handle the exploding demand upon it being made by dysfunctional families living within collapsing communities? The current system is overwhelmed, but it is not cold hearted or indifferent. What percentage of our annual state budget are we willing to commit to this ongoing and growing social disaster?

    We did not get a Ferguson, or a Baltimore. How much was saved in Chicago by avoiding one? Is your ideological demand for transparency so inflexible that it is willing to see these same challenged neighborhoods being reduced to ashes?

    We can all be armchair quarterbacks on this in the comforts of our warm little homes, but the difficult decisions, the political machinations and the painful realities facing those actually involved in this situation, deserves our respect too.

    Chicago did not burn down this weekend. How much is that worth?

  35. - We Don't Need No Stinkin' Licenses - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:56 am:


    Very true, Chicago did not burn. Still no excuse for the way that this was handled. And no one can be sure whether neighborhoods would have burned if the pertinent information had been released in timely fashion, given that it is impossible to prove a negative. Certainly, it does not seem that the way that this was handled will build confidence in the mayor or the police department or the state’s attorney. Exactly the opposite.

    Why Chicago hasn’t burned, who knows. A half-billion paid out to settle brutality cases in the space of a year, cops playing “Sweet Home Alabama” on car loudspeakers during a peaceful demonstration against police brutality, cops posing as hunters with an African American suspect dressed up like a deer, police torture cases, a cop unloading on an unarmed kid and police erasing a surveillance video that might have shown what led up to the tragedy.

    Really, it is amazing that Chicago hasn’t burned. Unless there’s some reform and change in the way these things are handled, we should not be surprised if it does one day.

  36. - Jocko - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:56 am:

    To add to Wordslinger & RSE, we have trained our politicians to say “Pay less now!” knowing full well it’ll cost us more later. That $5 million could’ve gone a long way to pay for Headstart teachers & DCFS caseworkers.

  37. - We Don't Need No Stinkin' Licenses - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:56 am:

    It was a half-billion paid out over ten years. My mistake.

  38. - FormerParatrooper - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:57 am:

    This is a bad culture that allows this. The Leadership sets the culture. Change the Leadership and you can change the culture. Keep the same Leadership and tbe culture remains.

  39. - old pol - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:57 am:

    Vanilla Man- You are correct in noting Chicago did not burn down - as it has in the past. Sadly, however, the reason has less to do with what went right than with the fact there is a thriving drug trade in the worse parts of the city and the gangs that control it do not want any disruption in there operations. So, it was not the police or ministers or public officials’ pleas that kept the city from burning, rather, it was the high principles of capitalism that prevailed.

  40. - Streator Curmudgeon - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:59 am:

    Great column, Rich.

    This incident stinks to high heaven. I read in USA Today yesterday that 86 minutes are missing from the Burger King tapes yet police deny any tampering.

    Is there a time limit on a FOIA request? Is the governmental body required to produce the requested info within a certain number of days?

    The foot-dragging, cover-ups, and downright lies scream for a federal investigation. Let’s hope the White House doesn’t give the President’s pal a free pass on this.

  41. - wordslinger - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 9:59 am:

    I understand the base motivations of most of the players here, but I find the failure of major Chicago media just galling.

    There has been no independent reporting by major Chicago media on this case for over a year. The only stories that I’ve seen that weren’t spoon-fed to the media by authorities were the ones where NBC and the Trib finally got a few words from the Burger King manager.

    Carol Marin was taking all the institutions to task yesterday in the Sun-Times for their failure. She forgot to mention Chicago media.

    A small-time independent freelancer brought the heat on this case. Same thing with the B3 scandal.
    Chicago media “heavies” were nowhere to be found.

    Focusing on personality conflicts among politicians, like they’re “celebrities,” is a lot easier than doing actual grunt-work journalism.

  42. - Larry Mullholland - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 10:00 am:

    Great Article Rich. However, you have a major missing piece related to the power of police unions in this state. Most departments cannot fire bad cops due to union protections and arbitration. There are many examples of departments trying to terminate bad cops who are then put on on the payroll and given back pay when then arbitration system forces the dept to take them back. The powerful Unions would never support police licensing. As result of Unions strong lobby in Illinois; it will not be approved as it may remove their protection system.

  43. - Chicago Bill - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 10:03 am:

    Rich - great article - you helped me understand where LaQuan was coming from. He dealt with a lot of terrible things at a very young age and explains why he was experimenting with drugs. The “system” really let him down.

    In addition to the officer who shot him, everybody failed that kid, from his own mother, who lost custody of LaQuan after her boyfriend savagely beat him…

    Other states take much better care of their young wards. Yes, that can be expensive. But if caring for the kids nobody else wants isn’t one of the state’s most important responsibilities, I don’t know what the heck is.

    According to the Chicago Sun-Times, LaQuan was sexually molested in two different foster homes that were chosen, vetted and paid for by the state.


    If that doesn’t boggle your mind and enrage your very soul, then absolutely nothing will.

  44. - Cook County commoner - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 10:09 am:

    The Sunday Chicago Tribune published a quotation from a shopper on Michigan Ave who was inconvenienced by the Laquan McDonald murder protestors: “I’m an American … I just want to get in the store … I just want to shop.”

    I believe this comment reflects the disinterest of many folks in the Chicago area, which would explain the Laquan McDonald tragedy and the many others that preceded it. They are the by-product of longstanding issues in Chicago, which the majority of residents appear okay with.

    One astute observer described outrage without action as a “pantomime of horror.” We’ll see some moral flailing about, but meaningful change? Forget it.

  45. - Cassandra - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 10:15 am:

    Yes, I agree with Anon 9:02 that DCFS, like many Illinois state agencies no doubt, needs change, and not just the kind of change that is principally pouring in lots more cash and hiring more politically connected consultants to write reports that get shelved fast.

    Rauner did bring in an experienced bureaucrat to run DCFS, but other than replacing a few top staff with his own picks, has he accomplished anything in addition to expanding the bureaucracy with his own highly-paid hires. What, exactly? In light of this tragic csse, it might be time to ask, while the voters are paying attention. And lets not forget that DCFS is already under the surveillance of the ACLU, its own OIG, the courts via a consent decree, and numerous other committees of worthies. These folks bear responsibility for the agency’s failures as well. Not to mention the GA, which is supposed to be reading the reports of these august bodies.

  46. - Arizona Bob - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 10:19 am:

    @retired state employee

    =Unfortunately we get what we paid for and this governor wants to spend less. How does anyone think it will get better until we agree that government is necessary and that good government cost money?=

    C’mon, retired. How much you spend in Illinois DCFS will make NO difference in outcomes. DCFS is a patronage haven, and paying an incompetent case worker $20,000 per year more, or hiring more politically connected case workers who feel “entitled” to the job, won’t do any good for the kids, since you can’t get rid of the dead wood.

    It’s like giving a failing tenured CPS teacher a $20K raise. It doesn’t give the kids a BETTER education, it just gives them a more expensive one….

  47. - DuPage - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 10:23 am:

    Par. 2566 of “police bill of rights act” says the act does not apply if an officer is charged with any crime, federal, state, or local. The failure here was that no charges were brought.

  48. - Bruce Rushton - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 10:25 am:

    ==Is there a time limit on a FOIA request? Is the governmental body required to produce the requested info within a certain number of days?==

    A public body must respond to a FOIA request within five business days. The public body may either grant the request, deny the request, partially grant the request or give itself a five-day extension to respond to the request. There are five reasons under the statute that a public body can extend the deadline–the records aren’t immediately accessible, the records must be reviewed by an expert to determine whether they are releasable, the records haven’t been located in the course of a routine search, etc. In the real world, agencies are free to give themselves extensions for any reason because there is no penalty for violating the law. The state police, for example, send out form letters asserting that all five statutory reasons for an extension are applicable when they can’t meet the five-day deadline. It isn’t unusual to have the state police ultimately say that they have no records responsive to your request after they’ve told you that they need an additional five days to respond because you’ve requested a substantial number of records.

    That it took more than a year for the Chicago video to be released is not atypical. The law says that FOIA lawsuits are supposed to be expedited to the extent possible, but they are rarely, if ever, expedited. Instead, they end up on the civil court docket along with everything else. Litigation takes time, and there is zero incentive for public bodies to speed things up or to turn records over after being sued because there are no real-world penalties for violating the law. Public bodies have to pay attorney fees for successful litigants, but that doesn’t usually involve much money, and it’s money that comes from public coffers, so there’s little reason for public officials to care. Judges can fine public bodies as much as $5,000 for willfully violating the law, but that has happened, so far as anyone knows, just once since that provision was added to the law five years ago.

    The thing with FOIA is, no one wants to talk about it until there’s some sort of emergency such as Blagojevich screwing up (that was what led to the most recent FOIA “reforms”) or this Chicago police shooting. Then everyone gets all excited, then they calm down, then they get all excited again when something else happens. But the law never gets fixed, and so cover ups and obfuscations keep happening. The media is as responsible for this as anyone–as others have pointed out, mainstream media, not a freelancer, should have sued to force the disclosure of the shooting video. The media should also be demanding that FOIA be fixed. There are plenty of ways to fix the law that have worked, are working, in other states.

  49. - Keep it Simple... - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 10:31 am:


    There’s a lot of blame to pass around, as you present nicely. But giving the FOP a pass because ‘licensing would supersede unions contracts’. You said ‘Everybody that failed that kid’. Your quick to throw everyone else under the bus.

  50. - Rich Miller - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 10:33 am:

    === But giving the FOP a pass ===


    Ya know, even 750 words has its limits.

  51. - Downstate - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 10:38 am:

    Can’t the city of Chicago implement their own licensing criteria without waiting on the state?

  52. - Rich Miller - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 10:39 am:

    === without waiting on the state? ===

    Yep. Will they? Doubtful.

    Also, that Lake County “GI Joe” cop is another example of why licensing is needed. Lots of complaints, and all he got was promoted.

    Again, 750 words is not infinite. I’ll be revisiting this topic, however.

  53. - Keyrock - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 10:44 am:

    DuPage, the problem with the police officer bill of rights is it overrides normal investigative practices in police misconduct cases, limiting the ability to bring charges or find non-criminal misconduct. The fact that it’s protection ends if criminal charges are finally brought doesn’t solve the problem.

  54. - illini - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 10:47 am:

    Once again, Rich, you nailed it. I always look forward to his Monday posts.

    Admittedly, I seldom read the Chicago papers, but have been amazed at the national media reactions and investigative reporting following the initial reports of this tragedy.

    The issues raised will hopefully be addressed and much needed changes will be implemented to correct the inefficient and complicated issues involved.

  55. - wordslinger - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 10:50 am:

    The “failure” I’m most interested in seeing right now is that of the cover-up.

    I gagged listening to Emanuel talk about “this episode can be a moment of understanding and learning.”

    What is that New Agey nonsense supposed to communicate in this context? It’s absolute gibberish.

    I “understand” that Emanuel fought tooth-and-nail to keep the video and circumstances surrounding the killing secret. I want to “learn” what he knew and when he knew it.

    And how’s about Alvarez? She claimed she decided to charge Van Dyke “weeks ago,” but only did so after a judge ordered the release of the video.

    Is that common practice for the state’s attorney? To leave suspected murderers on the street, and working at CPD, while feds work their case?

    This “episode” stinks to the top. Maybe Chicago media can start working this story, rather than doting on favored politicians for “scoops.”

  56. - Any Mouse - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 10:55 am:

    Sometimes I succumb to the temptation of viewing bad governance as some sort of soap opera/reality show/sport.

    The consequences are heart breaking.

  57. - Demoralized - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 11:00 am:


    Enough already. I’m getting tired of your constant rants about corruption around every corner and your dopey assertions that everyone working for the state is some politically connected crony. You ever been out with a caseworker? I have. I was appalled at the amount of children they were tasked with trying to keep track of. Is DCFS perfect? Of course not. But I can tell you based on that little bit of experience you’re never going to fix the system without at least some sort of plan to increase the number of people supervising all of the kids in the system.

    Also Bob, not everything is about teachers, yet you manage to weave that commentary into every comment you make on any subject.

  58. - Freezeup - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 11:02 am:

    Great column, great comments.

    Support and administrative staff are one of the first things to go when a police department is cutting money and attempting to put more officers in the field.

    It seems counter intuitive but technology support staff is critically important to police.

    It is not acceptable in any way that only one squad car had a working video camera. It is not acceptable that audio isn’t working. These are devices that need constant upkeep and repairs. Spares and spare parts need to be instantly available and a squad car should be considered out of service until it works.

    Body cams will be the same way. It will increase the work load of the tech’s tasked to keep them running by a third.

    The amount of digital storage for these items will be astronomical.

    It has to be done, these dash cams and body cams HAVE to work and HAVE to be used. All the time, not sometimes. And supervisors HAVE to review the video regularly, not just when something goes wrong.

    Cops have to realize that times have changed. Any cop that isn’t using all the video equipment he has available to him all of the time is a fool and supervisors who let it happen are too.

    It is pretty hard to argue that hiring civilian techie employees to support police officers equipment is as important as hiring DCFS workers but it’s part of the big picture.

  59. - loose meat burger - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 11:19 am:

    I see a lot of criticism of DCFS. First let me preface my comment by saying Neither I nor anyone in my family works for DCFS. I have worked as a family law attorney and know several CASA volunteers.

    Before you criticize DCFS you need to understand the challenge they face and what success actually looks like.

    As a family law attorney I have had comfortable/wealthy clients with children who have physical and emotional traumas. Even when the parents are caring, even when there are unlimited financial resources, from tutors to psychologists, success is not 100% it usually isn’t 50%. Physical and emotional trauma can be extremely difficult/impossible to overcome. Humans cannot create a system that heals trauma with 100% success.

    Outsourcing DCFS call centers to India and changing the DCFS work week from 37hrs to 40hrs, increasing DCFS employee healthcare contributions and taking away their pension will not lead to different outcomes. These are the “reforms” being put forward.

    You can’t reform DCFS to successful outcomes. Ask any CASA volunteer: (1) more money needed and (2) more families needed who are willing to take a child.

    Don’t criticize DCFS until you take a child and raise them, until you do that you are not part of the solution

  60. - Belle - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 11:22 am:

    Terrific column—very complicated issue. Today, it all looks like it is not possible to solve.

    Rahm, McCarthy and Anita need to go. Some of this is on Daley and the way he let the City deteriorate so he could re-decorate everything. I never cared for Rahm and now I know why-he just doesn’t get it at all. Hopefully, this saves us from his running for another office.

  61. - Dilemma - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 11:35 am:

    @AZ Bob ==C’mon, retired. How much you spend in Illinois DCFS will make NO difference in outcomes. DCFS is a patronage haven, and paying an incompetent case worker $20,000 per year more, or hiring more politically connected case workers who feel “entitled” to the job, won’t do any good for the kids, since you can’t get rid of the dead wood.==

    Yet, it is somehow ok for CEOs of corporations to demand golden parachutes, stock options and massive salaries? Why are you so opposed to paying people salaries that are appropriate for the work they do? Education is the most important thing we do for our children, and you want to have salaries so low that no one wants to go into the field. What else is important? Protecting our children, and you want to make sure no one goes into that profession. Why?

  62. - sal-says - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 11:37 am:

    I’d probably add the other responding officers and any that were a part of the alleged deletion of security cam recordings.

    Seems interesting that the Chi police decry the ‘wall of silence’ from witnesses to a crime, but then apparently do the same for their own. Hypocritical.

  63. - Streator Curmudgeon - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 12:11 pm:

    Bruce Ruston:

    Thanks for the answer. But expecting a government body (with lots of pressure from other government bodies not to) to fix the FOIA is probably never going to happen.

  64. - NoGifts - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 12:21 pm:

    We can also start by requiring the police to be truthful about events or risk being fired. I don’t think that’s a very high bar. I am also waiting for the forensic computer experts at the FBI to recover the deleted information. I have a hard time believing that a few police officers hitting the delete key came equipped with the software to actually wipe the hard drive.

  65. - ????? - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 12:39 pm:

    The entire McDonald case stinks. A knife wielding victim, an out of control cop, shady politicians approving a hefty cash settlement as hush money to make it all go away, etc.

    I am baffled that McDonald’s “family” received the settlement money. Many news reports indicated that the deceased was raised as a “ward of the state.” His relations seemed to have little to do with his upbringing as a foster child.

  66. - Educated in the Suburbs - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 1:12 pm:

    I wonder what would happen if CPD committed to getting its force up to 50% female officers.

    I bet that would solve almost literally half of their problems. Women aren’t invited into corrupt old boy networks very often, are less likely to participate when invited, and female cops are far more likely to de-escalate with suspects than to escalate.

  67. - Anon - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 2:34 pm:

    You are harsh with DCFS. According to the Tribune some progress was being made just prior to his murder by the CPD. It is inflammatory to accuse an entire department of incompetence, particularly when there are many factors that influence outcomes. Professionals are not able to predict the future. Judges and lawmakers put unreasonable deadlines and requirements on workers. Damage is already done to the child and the expectation that because DCFS becomes involved will prevent misguided actions by CPD doesn’t seem right.

  68. - Rich Miller - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 2:40 pm:

    ===You are harsh with DCFS===

    The kid is sexually molested at two DCFS foster homes and I’m being harsh???


  69. - loose meat burger - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 3:28 pm:

    Each time you take a child away from their natural parents and place them into a new home you are doing something that is unnatural and you will have many complications that will reduce your chances of success. Every time a child is placed in a new home there are incredible hurdles that must be overcome. The paperwork alone is incredible. On average an attorney would need to review 75-150 pages of documents and spend 80-150hrs. Most attorneys discount their rate dramatically when they work on at-need placements. When everyone works together and does a good job your chances of success are still very low.

    I saw a case where DCFS intervened and took a child away from a parent with a bad drug addiction. Luckily the child attracted the interest of a (honest, Christian, financially well off) family who swore up and down they would keep the child. They hired counsellors to work with their natural children, they bankrolled group trips with the foster child. two weeks later they returned the foster child. This happened two more times! Whatever trauma the poor kid had before was now magnified 10x by foster parents who backed out.

    The work of a DCFS counselor/case worker, CASA rep, judge, and attorneys are filled with so many examples of the “system failing the kids at need.” But it’s not because there are bad people or because it’s a bad system. The problem is that the goal is something that is extremely difficult. How many people do you a know who have taken in, raised, and developed a foster child? few people want foster children. DCFS works with a budget that is too small to address a massive problem. DCFS works in a society that does not want to care for at need kids, and that is the real problem.

  70. - Lynn S. - Monday, Nov 30, 15 @ 8:39 pm:

    With all due respect to my fellow commenters who mentioned LaQuan McDonald’s family:

    I’m not sure how much of the coverage of this case you’ve had the chance to read over the last week.

    Yes, LaQuan was taken from his natural mother, and was raised for several years by his grandmother. Grandmother apparently passed on at some point over the last few years, and LaQuan’s mother was attempting to have his custody returned to her before he was executed.

    LaQuan’s mother did indeed receive the $5,000,000 settlement, but his family opposed the release of the tape. They also issued a statement after the judge ordered the release, stating that they did not want to see any violence over this tape and the officer’s actions. At this time, that wish appears to have been honored.

    I’m not going to excuse or apologize for the fact mom lost custody. But that was over a decade ago, and she may have gotten her life together. AT the very least, she may have dumped the abusive boyfriend, and could offer her son a home where he would not be sexually molested.

  71. - LTC (Ret.) - Tuesday, Dec 1, 15 @ 8:42 am:

    PCP and a open knife, verbal threats to KILL, walking down the middle of a busy urban street. Does the officer have to wait until the person is 3 feet away and stabs HIM, or reaches into a passing car to slit the throat of the driver? NO, protecting life of CITIZENS and OTHER OFFICERS does NOT require proximity. Did this OFFENDER’S mother report to police or DCFS that her son was on PCP, acting irrationally and needed PSYCHIATRIC help? NO!!!! This is a FAILURE of parenting, a FAILURE of mental health intervention, a FAILURE of DCFS, a FAILURE of the courts, a FAILURE of the public guardian, a FAILURE of Fr. Pfleger, Rev. Jackson, Rev. Farrakhan, and Al Sharpton to require inner-city children to RESPECT THE RULE OF LAW AND SAFETY OF OTHERS….

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