OIG Finds That the Disciplinary Process for Chicago Police Department Members Risks Unfair and Inconsistent Outcomes Across Misconduct Investigations

The Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) Public Safety section has released a report on the consistency and fairness of the processes by which discipline is recommended and reviewed by Chicago Police Department (CPD) members found to have committed misconduct. OIG concluded that the agencies charged with investigating CPD members and recommending discipline, as well as reviewing those recommendations, do not operate with sufficient guidance and controls to ensure procedural fairness and consistency.

An allegation that a CPD member has committed misconduct is usually investigated by CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA) or the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA). If BIA or COPA finds that a CPD member has committed misconduct, that investigating agency recommends 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 the rank of the accused CPD member and the nature of the discipline, the Police Board may adjudicate the matter and review the investigating agency’s disciplinary recommendation.

Among OIG’s findings are that:

  • BIA and COPA’s policies do not contain clear and actionable guidance on how investigators should weigh aggravating and mitigating factors in reaching disciplinary recommendations;
  • Updates to BIA and COPA’s policies may still be inadequate to ensure consistency and fairness across cases without an advisory tool; and
  • The Police Board does not have any formal policies to consistently and fairly determine discipline for the cases it considers.

OIG made various recommendations to BIA, COPA, the Police Board, and the City’s Department of Law (DOL) to improve the consistency and fairness of the processes by which discipline for CPD members is recommended and reviewed. OIG recommended that:

  • COPA should revise its policies to ensure consistency and accuracy across the agency’s Employee Policy Handbook, two Investigations Manuals, and any additional policies issued;
  • BIA and COPA should revise their respective policies to require that personnel developing disciplinary recommendations must document that they have considered whether any mitigating and aggravating factors are relevant to the determination of recommended discipline;
  • Appropriate representatives of BIA, COPA, and the Police Board should solicit feedback from one another and CPD unions to develop a single, standardized list of aggravating and mitigating factors, and any resulting list of factors should be made publicly available; and
  • DOL should provide legal guidance to BIA and COPA to support the development of a single, standardized list of aggravating and mitigating factors that could serve as guidelines in misconduct investigations.

In its response to OIG’s recommendations, CPD reported that it is in the process of revising a number of its relevant orders and trainings for BIA personnel. COPA agreed with most of OIG’s recommendations, and indicated that it is currently undergoing efforts to revise relevant policies and guidance materials. The Chicago Police Board disagreed with the recommendation that it consult with CPD and COPA, highlighting its views of the importance of independence from the agencies which litigate before it. DOL reported that it would continue its current practice of providing legal guidance to the client departments it serves.

“A robust and transparent disciplinary system—one in which both members of the public and members of the Department have reason to be confident—is an essential component of meaningful public safety reform. Such a system must ensure that discipline is recommended and reviewed fairly and consistently, not arbitrarily and unpredictably,” said Inspector General Deborah Witzburg. “The City plainly owes that to its police force.”

The full report can be found online at OIG’s website: bit.ly/DisciplinaryProcessCPD

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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.