Since 2009, hundreds of Chicago police officers have collectively spent more than 1,200 years relieved of their police powers as investigations into their conduct have dragged on, in many cases, for years.
NBC 5 Investigates obtained via open records requests the list of all Chicago police officers relieved of police powers – meaning they cannot carry a badge or gun and have no power to make arrests – between 2009 and late March of this year.
That list shows 298 officers who were relieved of their powers and spent a combined 220,290 days – more than 603 years – in limbo, many still drawing checks before resigning or being discharged, ultimately leaving the department.
Another 518 officers were stripped but eventually restored to duty after a combined 232,862 days, which equates to roughly 638 years.
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Altogether, that’s 1,241 years that those 816 officers collectively spent off the streets. Two of the longest of those investigations lasted more than a decade, as the proceedings moved at a glacial pace, while 390 officers remained relieved of their police powers for a year or more.
At least 187 officers spent some time relieved of their police powers from January through March of this year, the data shows.
The Chicago Police Department did not definitively say how many of those officers might have been suspended for some period without pay. But the city’s own payroll data shows that the combined salaries of 148 of those officers who were not on the street during the first quarter of 2022 totaled at least $3.7 million.
And in what is already the biggest scandal in Chicago police history – that of disgraced Sgt. Ronald Watts – another group of officers involved in what even the state says was a corrupt unit still remain on the force and are still being paid.
“You’re still getting paid to actually not be a cop?” questioned Tyrone Fenton.
Fenton served two years in prison, with his conviction now one of more than 200 that prosecutors agree were set up by officers under the command of Watts. Only Watts, who went to prison over his team’s shakedowns and framing of residents at the former Ida B. Wells housing project, and one other officer were ever charged.
In 2017, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office sent a letter to the Chicago Police Department saying that 10 of the Watts officers are so tainted, they will never again be called to testify in a criminal case.
"Our office continues to maintain the policy of not calling these officers in cases that are pending before the courts today,” State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said earlier this year during a news conference after another wave of convictions were vacated.
Those officers were placed on desk duty in November 2017. Two retired within the last year, but since that letter went out, city data shows the remaining eight have been paid an estimated total of at least $4 million in salary, overtime and more as the investigation into their alleged wrongdoing drags through its fifth year.
“Why is it taking so long?” Fenton asked. “It didn't take that long for me. I was arrested and charged and convicted in less than a year.”
“This is an officer and his crew who everyone acknowledges, from the prosecutors to the trial courts to the appellate courts, that this is a bad gang of officers – and the city refuses to do anything about it,” said attorney Joshua Tepfer, who represented many of the individuals whose Watts convictions have been vacated.
“We have a system for taking action against these officers for accountability, and the city's just not using it,” added attorney Joel Flaxman, who also represented several individuals whose Watts cases were thrown out.
“Why the city continues to drag its heels, it’s – I’ve already used the word: it’s beyond disappointing. It’s astounding,” Tepfer said.
The fate of the Watts officers is yet to be determined. Fenton said he can't understand why the investigation is dragging on, or why those officers are continuing to draw checks from the city of Chicago.
“I don't even know the words to use for that,” he said. “The ones who set me up – I'm still paying your salary.”
“The Chicago Police Department is committed to accountability and we take all allegations of misconduct seriously. All allegations of misconduct by a member of CPD are investigated thoroughly,” CPD said in a statement, in part, adding that “officers involved are afforded due process” during those proceedings.