Fairness and Consistency in the Disciplinary Process for CPD Members

The Municipal Code of Chicago (MCC) Chapter 2-56 enables the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and sets out its powers and duties. Section 2-56-230(f) of this ordinance provides OIG’s Public Safety section with the power to:

[R]eview and audit all sustained findings, disciplinary recommendations, and decisions made by the Police Department, [Civilian Office of Police Accountability], and the Police Board, and any subsequent arbitration decisions, for the purpose of assessing trends and determining whether discipline is consistently and fairly applied, and determining whether final disciplinary decisions are being carried out.

Pursuant to this obligation, OIG reports on its evaluation of procedural consistency and fairness in the Chicago Police Department (CPD) disciplinary process; specifically, this report is devoted to the evaluation of the procedures that agencies follow in recommending and reviewing discipline.

The process by which CPD members are investigated and disciplined for allegations of misconduct is complex and directed by numerous, decentralized sources of authority, including: CPD and other agency policies, directives, and manuals; the MCC; the consent decree entered in Illinois v. Chicago; and multiple collective bargaining agreements between the City of Chicago and CPD members. The investigative and disciplinary process also involves multiple City and non-City institutional actors. CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA) and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), a civilian investigating agency, are primarily responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct against CPD members; if they sustain one or more allegations, they recommend a disciplinary penalty. This recommended discipline then proceeds through a review process, after which CPD issues any discipline to the accused Department member. Depending on several factors—including the rank or position of the accused member and the level of discipline recommended—the member may challenge this discipline through a disciplinary grievance procedure. In certain other cases—either as an elective challenge or as an automatic, non-waivable review—the Chicago Police Board adjudicates cases in which the issued discipline is above a specified level of severity. CPD is responsible for implementing the final discipline following any appeal of adjudicatory processes.

OIG found that existing BIA, COPA, and Police Board policies do not provide clear and actionable guidance to agency personnel sufficient to ensure procedural consistency and fairness in the determination of discipline across misconduct investigations. The outcome of each disciplinary case is necessarily case-specific and is appropriately dependent upon a unique set of facts and circumstances. In the absence of sufficiently robust policy guidance, however, the disciplinary process is unpredictable for involved members and risks arbitrary outcomes. While the investigating and reviewing agencies must consider different facts in each disciplinary case, they ought to follow consistent and fair procedures to guide that consideration.

BIA and COPA’s policies do not provide sufficient guidance on how, when, and in what measure those agencies should consider aggravating and mitigating factors in reaching disciplinary recommendations, risking approaches that vary widely across investigations and may therefore be inconsistent and unfair. COPA’s policies, specifically, contain internally contradictory and outdated language. The Police Board does not have any formal policies in place at all to ensure that its determinations of final discipline are made consistently and fairly across all cases it considers.

To better ensure procedural consistency and fairness in the determination of discipline resulting from misconduct investigations, OIG made recommendations to CPD, COPA, the Police Board, and the Department of Law (DOL). OIG’s recommendations related to (1) policies and practices that CPD, COPA, and the Police Board can implement to guide and document the process by which disciplinary recommendations are reached; and (2) agencies’ efforts to secure, through collective bargaining agreements, the option to rely on advisory, non-binding guidelines for disciplinary penalty ranges when making disciplinary recommendations.