OIG Releases Advisory Regarding the Chicago Fire Department’s Management and Enforcement of Protocols for Missing or Stolen Badges

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued an advisory regarding a pattern in which a disproportionate number of Chicago Fire Department (CFD) retirees reported their active member badges missing or stolen within three to six months of their retirement. As stated in CFD’s general orders, badges are CFD property. Uniformed members receive active duty badges based on their rank and the badge must remain in the member’s custody; when a member retires or leaves for any other reason, they must return the badge. If a badge is lost or stolen, members must immediately notify CFD and submit a form explaining how the loss occurred, along with a completed police report.

OIG reviewed records from January 1, 2015, through June 30, 2020 and found that overall, 340 CFD members reported their badges as stolen or lost to the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Approximately 79.7% of the reports––271 of the total 340––came from retiring CFD members, with 22.6% of all retiring members who reported their badges stolen or missing to CPD doing so within the 6 months prior to their retirement.

OIG’s inquiry concluded that there were a number of possible causes, including: 1) that CFD members are committing theft of City property (badges), filing false police reports to cover up the theft, and thereby enabling themselves to retain their CFD badges upon retirement, or 2) that CFD members may be misplacing their badges and not reporting them missing or stolen until it is time to return their badges at retirement. Theft of City property and filing false police reports are crimes, and failing to immediately report a missing or stolen CFD badge is a violation of protocol and rules.  

OIG made a number of suggestions for CFD to develop and implement new procedures regarding misplaced or lost badges. In response, CFD stated that it is updating its Badge and Cap Device Policy to reflect OIG’s recommendations that: (1) members must report lost or stolen badges within 24 hours, (2) members who lose or destroy a badge must pay for the cost of a replacement badge, (3) members who do not pay for the cost of a replacement badge will be subject to discipline and/or wage garnishment for the replacement cost, and (4) condition eligibility for a retirement badge on the tendering of a member’s active duty badge at the time of retirement. Furthermore, CFD committed to reporting any unusual trends or operational concerns to OIG and CFD’s Internal Affairs Division. CFD, however, did not address OIG’s recommendation that it issue a department-wide communication refreshing all members on the general orders requiring that they either return their CFD badges at retirement or purchase a retirement badge.

The Office of Public Safety Administration (PSA), which is responsible for CFD’s human resources administration, stated that it would update its procedures to address OIG’s concerns. PSA will continue to collect badges from retiring CFD members, compile and track data submitted by members who report badges as lost or stolen, and review the data for operational concerns.

“The failure to properly account for CFD badges is a control risk and raises concerns for potential misconduct, considering that CFD badges designate the holder as having official authority conferred by the City,” said Interim Inspector General William Marback. “The Chicago Fire Department and the Office of Public Safety Administration have offered assurance that the issue of lost or stolen badges will be taken seriously, and have committed to adhering to the proper protocols concerning City property and the enforcement of discipline when staff aren’t in compliance with said protocols.”

The advisory and the departments’ responses can be found on 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.