OIG Advisory Finds That COPA’s Process for Administratively Terminating Disciplinary Investigations Contains Inconsistencies and Inaccuracies

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) Public Safety section has released an advisory to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) regarding that agency’s practice of administratively terminating police disciplinary investigations short of an investigative finding. OIG found that administrative termination is ill-defined and frequently misapplied, and therefore each investigation in which it is used represents a risk that an allegation of police misconduct is improperly disposed of without ensuring either accountability or vindication for a Chicago Police Department (CPD) member.

OIG—which, on an ongoing basis, reviews individual closed disciplinary investigations conducted by COPA and CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs and makes recommendations to inform and improve future investigations—recommended that COPA implement the following changes:

  • ensure that all potentially appropriate dispositions are considered and refrain from administratively terminating investigations based solely on the age of the complaint or to increase case closure capacity;
  • ensure that the chief administrator’s approval is sought when appropriate; and
  • review investigations recently closed by administrative termination to ensure their dispositions were appropriate.

Although 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,” its written response to OIG contradicted, in places, the statements of its employees and its own internal documents. These contradictions underscore the need to clarify and codify the requirements surrounding the application of administrative termination.

“A transparent and robust investigative process for allegations of police misconduct is profoundly important to fostering trust between the police department and the community it serves. Members of the public and CPD members are plainly entitled to a police accountability and disciplinary system in which they believe, and COPA fulfills its responsibilities in that system by conducting and documenting  thorough, accurate, and consistent investigations,” said Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety Deborah Witzburg. “As we look forward to COPA implementing our recommendations, and recognizing the bedrock importance of the accountability process, we will continue to make recommendations to inform and improve police disciplinary investigations.”

The full advisory, including COPA’s response, can be on our 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: igchicago.org.