Review of the Disciplinary Grievance Procedure for Chicago Police Department Members

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted a review of the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD or the Department) disciplinary grievance procedure. When allegations of misconduct are made against a CPD member, the assigned investigating agency determines whether the allegations should be Sustained and, if so, recommend appropriate discipline for the accused member. CPD will then review the investigating agency’s disciplinary recommendation. If the Department goes on to issue discipline after this review process, the member facing discipline may have a right to grieve. Sworn members who are covered by union contracts have rights to pursue a disciplinary grievance for some but not all types of discipline issued to them.   

The disciplinary grievance procedure is governed by the collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) negotiated between the City of Chicago and each of the unions representing the sworn member ranks of police officer, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. There are three grievance procedure pathways for CPD sworn members who wish to challenge issued discipline: (1) binding summary opinions (BSO), (2) arbitrations, and (3) Police Board review. The pathways open to a member depend on both the specific discipline issued and the member’s rank. CPD and the relevant union may also settle a grieved disciplinary case before the formal process is complete; these settlements can result in reduced or eliminated discipline.

To understand the impact of the grievance procedure and its outcomes, OIG reviewed the results of all disciplinary grievances resolved between November 18, 2014, and December 31, 2017. During the period of analysis, 370 disciplinary grievances were resolved or settled. These 370 cases account for approximately 52% of all Sustained disciplinary cases that were eligible for at least one grievance pathway, based on the level of discipline issued and the contractual rights of the member’s union. Because not all Sustained disciplinary cases are eligible for grievance, the 370 cases account for a lower percentage—approximately 39%—of all Sustained disciplinary cases. Discipline was eliminated or reduced in 78% of the 370 cases that were resolved through disciplinary grievances.

In addition to understanding the impact of the grievance procedure on disciplinary outcomes, OIG reached several findings that bear on the transparency and consistency of the disciplinary and accountability process:

  • Arbitrators exercise broad, unbounded discretion in their reviews of grievance cases, and as a result they often cite factors in their decisions that extend beyond the specific alleged misconduct including, but not limited to, management and operational considerations such as an officer’s history (as mitigating or aggravating) and the deterrent effect of the discipline.
  • The processes for BSOs and grievance arbitrations lack transparency, as compared to the publicly available information on complaints.
  • The settlement process lacks transparency, as compared to the publicly available information on complaints.
  • Written settlement agreements do not follow a consistent format, and settlement agreements do not consistently record all basic descriptive information about cases.
  • Settlements are regularly used to resolve discipline after Sustained findings of misconduct, and these settlements regularly result in the removal of rule violations from sworn members’ records.
  • Ninety percent of completed grievance arbitrations between November 2014 and December 2017 have been assigned to just three independent arbitrators operating with vast discretion, little public transparency, and negligible substantive post-decision review.

OIG recommends that CPD take several measures to improve the consistency and transparency of the disciplinary grievance procedure. OIG further recommends that CPD, in collaboration with the agencies conducting police misconduct investigations, review BSOs and arbitration decisions on an annual basis to track how different factors influence arbitrators’ decisions. Finally, OIG recommends that the Department of Law (DOL), in collaboration with CPD member unions, consider expanding the pool of eligible arbitrators called upon to adjudicate BSOs and arbitrations, and consider formal procedures for assessing and evaluating arbitrators and arbitration outcomes in concluded matters.

CPD and DOL responded independently to each of OIG’s recommendations. CPD agreed with six of the eight recommendations. DOL agreed to a partial implementation of one recommendation and committed to considering whether one other should be raised in collective bargaining with CPD member unions. With respect to OIG’s remaining recommendations, DOL took the position that it is already in compliance with some elements, that it does not have the data available to implement others, and that implementation of others would violate attorney-client or attorney work product privilege protections or would undermine DOL litigation strategy. The responses from CPD and DOL represent some commitments to improving the disciplinary grievance process; in declining to create an accessible resource of arbitration awards and to expand upon already-mandated data reporting, however, the agencies are failing to meet opportunities for meaningful transparency and accountability.