Ex-Lieutenant John Burge, a former Chicago police commander found guilty of perjury, was released from a North Carolina federal prison yesterday. He has been authorized to travel to Florida and check into a halfway house on his own, where he will serve the remainder of his four and a half year sentence.
Burge, now 66 years old, was convicted of giving false testimony during a 2010 trial regarding over 100 complaints of torture and police brutality under his watch. Victims of Burge and his officers reported that they suffered from a number of different brutal attacks in the 1970s and 80s, many of which were used to gain false confessions. Burge himself was never convicted of torture.
Many victims came forward after Burge was found guilty, most of them African-American men, telling gruesome accounts of torture by Burge and his men. Many were shocked, beaten and even had bags held over their heads to make them think they were being suffocated.
One victim, Anthony Holmes, waited outside of City Hall this morning with a number of reporters and angry Chicago officials as Burge was being transferred, according to the Chicago Tribune. Holmes was arrested by Burge in 1973 and was electrocuted while a bag over was held over his head by detectives until he took responsibility for a murder he still says he did not commit.
Holmes, along with many Chicago officials, are pushing City Council to pay reparations to the countless victims who suffered under Burge and never had their cases heard in court. Others are upset that Burge is still receiving $36,000 in pension a year, despite the fact that his case has cost the city millions of taxpayer dollars.
Burge’s release comes at a time when public opinion of law enforcement officials is at an all-time low. Following the shooting in Ferguson, MO this summer, people’s trust in police has decreased dramatically, and law enforcement officials are scrambling for a way to regain public trust.
Many local agencies across the country are now installing in-car camera systems in patrol cars, as well as equipping officers with body cameras. The hope is that these cameras will create better transparency between police and citizens, allowing citizens to see things from a police officers perspective.
While there are mixed feelings about equipping police with cameras, agencies that have adopted the policy have found them to be effective. Police departments in Rialto, CA started using body cameras in 2012, and within the first year, the use of police force went down 60% and complaints by the public against the police dropped 88%.
Police cameras may be one answer to rebuilding relationships going forward, but the release of Jon Burge has done nothing to ease tensions in Chicago. Many view the news as a setback in a time when the public expects those in positions of power to be held responsible for their actions.