OIG Finds That the Civilian Office of Police Accountability Is Not in Compliance with the City’s Video Release Policy for Use-of-Force Incidents

The Public Safety Section of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted a review which finds that the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) is not in full compliance with the Video Release Policy (the Policy), which requires that the City publicly release video and audio files and certain police documents related to use-of-force incidents within 60 days of the incident. Criteria for releases under the policy include: certain types of firearms discharges, taser discharges resulting in death or great bodily harm, and use of force against individuals in police custody resulting in death or great bodily harm. COPA is responsible for identifying eligible use-of-force incidents and releasing materials publicly on its online Case Portal. COPA relies on the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) Crime Prevention and Information Center (CPIC) for notification of certain use-of-force incidents and depends on other agencies, notably CPD and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC), to provide certain video and audio files. However, this process has not always resulted in the timely release of all relevant files.

OIG’s review uncovered internal conditions at COPA that inhibited the timely release of materials, as well as deficits involving other City agencies. In some cases, COPA miscalculated a release deadline or was late to identify an incident as one for which the Policy mandated the release of materials. In others, COPA did not receive video and audio files from OEMC in time to post them within the 60-day window required by the Policy. OIG’s review also revealed a need for clearer policy, guidance, and training for CPD members assigned to CPIC on their duties to notify COPA of certain Policy-implicated incidents. Finally, OIG found that COPA exercised inadequately guided discretion in releasing materials beyond those mandated for release by the Policy. OIG commends efforts undertaken in the pursuit of transparency, but subjectivity and inconsistency in COPA’s treatment of these extra-Policy matters may raise public concern about the rigor of its implementation of the Policy.

OIG made several recommendations to ensure COPA is notified and releases materials for all Policy-mandated incidents in the 60-day timeframe required:

  • COPA needs to improve certain internal processes and collaborate with OEMC and the Mayor’s Office to develop interagency processes that support the timely delivery of material requested from OEMC.
  • COPA and CPIC should co-develop notification guidelines that are clear and binding, and train CPIC staff to execute them. CPD should also adopt these guidelines into a binding directive.
  • Further, OIG recommended that the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Law (DOL), and COPA should review the Policy’s criteria for release, discern whether additional criteria or guidance should be included, and DOL should then update the Policy accordingly.

In response, COPA, CPD, OEMC, and the Mayor’s Office agreed with OIG’s recommendations. COPA committed to working with CPIC to develop quality assurance measures, including data-driven performance improvement processes, to ensure that COPA is notified of all appropriate incidents. CPD will work with COPA to develop clear guidelines for notifying COPA, as well as draft a directive outlining CPIC’s responsibilities. OEMC will work with COPA and the Mayor’s Office to adjust processes and enhance technology and personnel resources to improve the timeliness with which it provides materials. Finally, the Mayor’s Office has committed to working with each agency to address the identified issues and recommendations.

“The City of Chicago was a proactive national leader in adopting the Video Release Policy in 2016 in immediate response to the initial recommendations of the Police Accountability Task Force. In the midst of the continuing complex national conversation about police accountability, the City’s full vindication of the original intentions of the Policy has never been more important or urgent. COPA, CPD, OEMC, and the Mayor’s Office must work together more effectively to meet the City’s transparency imperatives around use of force by the police, while appropriately attending to privacy and procedural fairness in the police disciplinary system,” said Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety Deborah Witzburg. “Solutions here depend upon the cooperative efforts of several City agencies, each of whom have acknowledged opportunities to improve the current process. A failure to do so risks the City failing to meet its mandate to render public accountability for the use of force by Chicago’s police.”

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.