Advisory Concerning the Civilian Office of Police Accountability’s Practice of Administratively Terminating Disciplinary Investigations

The Public Safety section of the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducts, on an ongoing basis, reviews of individual closed disciplinary investigations conducted by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) and the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA). In the course of these reviews, OIG identified issues with COPA’s use of “administrative termination” to conclude disciplinary investigations short of an investigative finding.

To close an investigation, COPA may use either non-finding or finding dispositions, which are laid out in COPA’s Investigations Manual (the Manual). Despite the fact that it does not appear in the Manual, COPA uses administrative termination as a non-finding disposition. OIG found that administrative termination is ill-defined and frequently misapplied, with inconsistencies and inaccuracies in its use falling into two general categories. In the first category of cases, the criteria for use set forth in COPA’s Administrative Termination Memorandum template were not met, although they were sometimes recorded as met in contradiction with the facts and circumstances of the investigation. In the second category of cases, investigations were closed via administrative termination when there were more clearly defined and closely applicable dispositions available.

OIG recommended that COPA add policies on the use of administrative termination to its Manual; establish clear and specific criteria for its use; ensure that all potentially appropriate dispositions are considered; ensure that, during supervisory review, all required criteria for administrative termination are met; ensure that the chief administrator’s approval is sought when appropriate; and refrain from administratively terminating investigations based solely on the age of the complaint or as a means to increase case closure capacity. Finally, OIG recommended that COPA review investigations recently closed by administrative termination to ensure their dispositions were appropriate.

COPA agreed with many of OIG’s recommendations and acknowledged that, “[i]n the past, operating practices were not as systematic and consistent as those to which we aspire.” Specifically, COPA agreed that administrative termination and its associated criteria should be added to the Manual in a way that establishes clear and specific affirmative criteria for its use. COPA further agreed with the importance of closing an investigation using the most appropriate available disposition. COPA emphasized that its investigators receive “considerable training regarding the requirements of each disposition and the appropriate circumstances of its application” and are regularly provided with updated policies on the application of each disposition.

In its response, COPA described the criteria listed in the Administrative Termination Memorandum template as a “guide, not a complete list or a schedule of requirements that must all be met prior to Administrative Termination.” This contradicts the plain language of the template, which states, “Criteria set forth below must be met in order to close as Administrative Termination.” COPA also asserted in its written response that the chief administrator is not required to approve the use of administrative termination to close an investigation where all of the criteria were not met. This directly contradicts what OIG was told by COPA management, as well as a memorandum which COPA supplied with its response, which states that “[c]ases that fall outside of this criteria require Chief Administrator approval to be Administratively Terminated.” These contradictions, highlighted by COPA’s response and accompanying materials, underscore the need to clarify and codify the requirements surrounding the application of administrative termination.

COPA agreed in part with OIG’s recommendation that administrative termination should not be used to close an investigation solely based on the age of the complaint or as a means to increase case closure capacity, but detailed circumstances under which COPA believes it might be appropriate to do so. Specifically, COPA stated that it must make “[d]ifficult decisions about which investigations are deserving of [its] limited resources.” Thus, certain cases that “may have an indicia [sic] of misconduct, but are unlikely to produce an affirmative finding, such that pursuit of the matter would misapply finite resources and manpower” are proper subjects for administrative termination. (Emphasis omitted). Additionally, COPA outlined its views on the use of administrative termination in the investigation of incidents which occurred more than five years in the past. In such circumstances, the superintendent’s approval is required to proceed with an investigation; COPA stated that administrative termination is appropriate when “COPA sought and obtained Superintendent approval to proceed with [the] investigation, but its efforts ultimately indicated an inability to reach an affirmative finding.” Finally, COPA agreed to audit administratively terminated investigations to ensure that the most appropriate disposition was utilized when closing them.

OIG encourages COPA to implement OIG’s recommendations and to continue to conduct investigations in a manner which demonstrates a professional standard of care.