Philip O’Sullivan, ‘Putting a Check on Police Violence: The Legal Services Market, Section 1983, Torture, Abusive Detention Practices, and the Chicago Police Department from 1954 to 1967’

ABSTRACT
This article explores the conception, rise, and initial implementation of a legal strategy which sought to fashion civil liability into a tool for reforming the Chicago Police Department (CPD) from the mid-1950s to 1967. A group of lawyers, working in close concert with the Illinois Division (their preferred name of choice at the time) of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sought to weaponize civil suits into a means of forcing CPD leadership to crack down on abusive and harmful police behavior. Drawing from a strand of contemporary scholarship on how private civil actions could shape municipal policy, the lawyers theorized that, with the correct imposition of civil liability, they could spur the legal industry to cause the number of successful civil suits to become more commensurate with the prevalence of abusive police practices. The lawyers thought the total cost, or fear of future costs, of the resulting civil suits would compel CPD leadership to enact reforms to crack down on a culture of impunity and widespread police misconduct within the CPD. This article examines the attempt to carry out this legal strategy in the federal civil court system from the early 1950s to the end of Superintendent OW Wilson’s tenure in 1967, with a specific focus on police torture and abusive detention practices …

O’Sullivan, Philip, Putting a Check on Police Violence: The Legal Services Market, Section 1983, Torture, Abusive Detention Practices, and the Chicago Police Department from 1954 to 1967 (April 25, 2021). Harvard Civil Rights – Civil Liberties Law Review (CR-CL), volume 56, 2021.

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