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Local Attorneys Volunteer to Watchdog Chicago Police

Posted by Admin On August - 22 - 2014

From: First Defense Legal Aid

The recent killing of Mike Brown, a Black youth in Ferguson, Missouri has a nation questioning: who polices the police? How the Chicago Police Department members treat people is an issue 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With new police accountability ideas on the table from civilian oversight to video recording, it is important to know that in Chicago, First Defense is one of the best-kept secrets, evening the playing field between suspects and police and prosecutors.

First Defense is unique to Chicago, watchdogging the police by deploying volunteer attorneys to police stations when someone calls a toll-free Hotline to alert them to an arrest. The attorneys take shifts of 6 hours/mo each because they are concerned with protecting people’s rights in the first 48 hours after a police stop. In 2015, the group will celebrate 20 years of the Hotline; their wish at this anniversary is for all of Chicago to know their number.

“Procedural justice in police custody requires access to an advocate. It’s nothing new, but by the time a public defender can be appointed, typically after 48 hours being alone with police and prosecutors, it is basically too late,” says First Defense Executive Director, Eliza Solowiej, “we are providing real access to the Miranda rights we all know but are almost never attainable.”

Witnesses to any questionable police tactics or uses of excessive force by officers while taking people into police custody, can call 1(800) 529-7374 anytime of day or night. Attorneys go into every Chicago police station and check on the arrestee, documenting any injuries, evidence of abuse, or reports of misconduct. Our attorneys visit all of the stations where Chicago police hold suspects and determine how long the person has been in police custody and how much longer they can legally be held before they are charged or released. They can advocate for medical treatment and help document what happens at the station.

They also ensure a person in custody can assert his or her right to an attorney, against unreasonable searches, and to remain silent under the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Chicago police practice is to allow an arrestee his or her phone calls at the end of processing. This limits a person’s ability to call for a free attorney when it matters most, so the group is working hard to spread the word that anyone can call as soon as they know someone was arrested, with their name, birthdate and last known location.

Through providing for and watchdogging the rights of arrestees, First defense helps police culture such as the ‘code of silence’ be transformed, and police stops safer for Chicago youth when split-second decisions can make the difference between life and death. The relationship between communities and police, and public safety increases when more people access their rights.

For more information, contact: Eliza Solowiej, Executive Director, First Defense Legal Aid

(773) 354-8581


Also available for comment: youth impacted by police violence, outreach workers returned from prison for wrongful convictions, and volunteer attorneys on how filling the gap in access to free legal defense can help transform police culture for the better

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