The Public Safety section of the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) completed a review of the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) processes for managing and producing its records for criminal prosecution and civil litigation arising out of law enforcement activities. OIG’s review found that the Department’s records management practices are inadequate to ensure that it can identify and produce all requested, relevant, and/or responsive records in its possession, and, therefore, to ensure that CPD meets is constitutional and other legal obligations for disclosure. CPD’s inability to ensure that it meets these obligations poses fundamental risks to due process and the fairness of criminal and civil litigation.
Specifically, OIG found the following:
- CPD’s Subpoena Unit and Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) lack the means to determine what records may exist in CPD’s possession for any case or incident, making it impossible to know whether all relevant records have been identified and produced.
- When receiving a request for “any and all” relevant records, CPD members routinely fail to conduct a thorough search beyond certain, frequently-requested categories of records, and members may be unable to determine which of CPD’s units may hold relevant records.
- Records produced by CPD members have not been uniformly recorded or documented in a comprehensive tracking system.
- CPD’s processes lack clarity around the circumstances under which records productions should be subject to an internal legal review, to guard against the improper disclosure of records which may raise privacy and public safety concerns.
OIG recommended that CPD develop Department-wide records management and production policies, procedures, and trainings to ensure that CPD members understand legal and constitutional obligations—their own individually, the Department’s, and those of the prosecutors’ offices with which they work—to effectively identify and produce records. CPD should also develop and implement a records management system that allows for the effective and efficient identification of records across CPD’s various units, systems, and physical locations. Finally, OIG recommended improved communication, coordination, and transparency with stakeholders to develop these policies, procedures, trainings, and systems, and to resolve any issues moving forward.
CPD agreed with many of OIG’s recommendations, and has created an internal working group comprised of OLA, the Records Section, the Office of Operations, and the Research and Development Division to “spearhead changes to CPD orders, creation of internal standard operation procedures for each of the units and to share information to make CPD records management process better.” Additionally, the Mayor’s Office has convened an external working group comprised of CPD and other stakeholders, including the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Department of Law, to “ensure that any concerns raised by these entities are addressed and that record production by CPD is a fulsome process.”
“CPD’s failure to identify and produce all records in its possession has put due process and the fairness of criminal and civil litigation at stake, with enormous potential consequences for individual litigants and their liberty interests,” said Acting Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety Deborah Witzburg. “CPD has identified areas for immediate attention, and while we recognize that these challenges are complex and monumental, we still urge the Department to fully commit to improving mechanisms for identifying and producing records in its possession. Doing so is critical to improving public trust and confidence in the competent and transparent operation of the Department.”
The full report can be found online at OIG’s website.
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The mission of the independent and non-partisan City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) is to promote economy, effectiveness, efficiency, and integrity by identifying corruption, waste, and mismanagement in City government. OIG is a watchdog for the taxpayers of the City and has jurisdiction to conduct investigations and audits into most aspects of City government. If you see corruption, fraud, or waste of any kind, we need to hear from you. For more information, visit our website at: www.igchicago.org.