The Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) Public Safety section conducted an evaluation of the use of the affidavit override in disciplinary investigations of Chicago Police Department (CPD) members conducted by CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs, CPD District and Unit accountability sergeants, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) and its predecessor, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA). The evaluation found that the affidavit override process has been underused and misunderstood, resulting in disciplinary cases being closed for lack of verifiable evidence. Illinois state law and the collective bargaining agreements between the City of Chicago and labor unions representing CPD members require that—except subject to certain limited exceptions—allegations of misconduct against a police officer be supported by a sworn affidavit. In the absence of a sworn affidavit, the investigating agency may obtain an affidavit override—an authorization from the head of a counterpart accountability agency—to complete an investigation without an affidavit, on the basis of there being objective, verifiable evidence to support the allegations. Examples of such evidence might include video of the incident, audio from a 911 call, global positioning systems records, or witness statements.
OIG found that,
- Investigating agencies did not pursue overrides and improperly closed investigations for lacking an affidavit.
- Investigating agencies often closed investigations associated with a civil lawsuit for lacking an affidavit, risking outcomes in which the City bears financial costs associated with conduct which is never meaningfully investigated for disciplinary purposes.
- Investigations completed with an affidavit override resulted in sustained allegations at a higher rate than investigations completed via a signed affidavit or an exemption from the affidavit requirement.
OIG made several recommendations for CPD and COPA to better ensure that the affidavit override lowers barriers to accountability while appropriately protecting the procedural rights of CPD members:
- amend policies and improve training related to the pursuit of affidavits and use of the affidavit override;
- document all evidence obtained during the preliminary investigation, and all instances in which evidence was sought or requested but unavailable, for all investigations closed for lacking an affidavit;
- adequately pursue signed affidavits when they are available, both by decreasing barriers for those involved and by providing opportunities for third-party witnesses and other involved parties;
- ensure that case files include documentation of an investigation’s origins and summaries of video evidence which describe the events captured therein; and
- take measures to prohibit investigators from discouraging reporting parties from signing affidavits.
In their responses, both CPD and COPA agreed with OIG’s observation of the importance of the affidavit override process and proper evidence documentation, and reported that many of OIG’s recommendations have been, or are being addressed, with recent changes in policies and practices.
“A robust system for investigating police misconduct is one in which allegations are meaningfully investigated while the procedural rights of accused police officers are asserted. Used properly, the affidavit override process is an effective tool to protect complainants, get to the bottom of allegations, and weed out baseless accusations. Historically, however, the process has been underused and poorly understood,” said Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety Deborah Witzburg. “As shown in the work of the Police Accountability Task Force and by the Department of Justice’s pattern and practice investigation, for too long, the requirement that allegations of police misconduct be supported by an affidavit has been used in Chicago as a shield against accountability and, perhaps at worst, an excuse to consign misconduct allegations to the trash heap. The affidavit override process provides an effective, sound alternative that promotes accountability while protecting the procedural rights of CPD members. In the interest of accountability and the ongoing impetus to improve public trust, we strongly urge CPD and COPA to ensure that they are making appropriate, policy-guided use of the affidavit override process.”
The full report can be found online at OIG’s website: bit.ly/AffidavitOverride
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.