• Michael McDevitt
    AUG 04, 2023

    IG finds Chicago Police rules for reporting misconduct leave employees vulnerable to retaliation

    Chicago Inspector General Deborah Witzburg speaks about the findings of an inquiry into the Chicago Police Department’s misconduct complaint process in a livestream Aug. 3, 2023. [Livestream]

    The Chicago Police Department (CPD) has failed to allow officers to properly report allegations of misconduct without potentially facing retaliation, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) found in a report published Thursday.

    The OIG’s investigation of CPD’s Rules 21 and 22, which lay out the duty to report, was mandated by the federal consent decree currently in place over the police department. According to the OIG report, policy experts suggest giving police personnel multiple ways to report misconduct, including anonymous means, to combat hesitancy that could arise from fears of retaliation. 

    Though the department gives officers the ability to report misconduct anonymously, the OIG found that the anonymous complaints failed to fulfill an employee’s duty to report under the police department’s official code of conduct. The OIG also found that CPD did not do enough to consistently educate and make employees aware of their obligations to report misconduct on an ongoing basis.

    The watchdog’s investigation found that the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) and CPD Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA) failed to adequately pursue investigations into violations of the rules requiring officers to report misconduct. Failure to pursue the investigations signaled a lack of consistent enforcement of the department’s policies regarding how employees report misconduct. 

    Rules 21 and 22 call for CPD employees to report criminal and unlawful action, violations of CPD rules and regulations and other misconduct in a timely manner. Anonymous means of reporting are key to combating the “code of silence” that has become well-known to exist in the police department, the OIG report said. 

    During a live Q&A stream Thursday, Inspector General Deborah Witzburg called the code of silence a threat to the police department’s credibility and a threat to its ability to solve crime and maintain public safety. 

    “One of the ways we solve crimes is that we ask people, we ask Chicagoans, to report to the police department,” Witzburg said. “We ask people to report crimes, to share information they know to help police officers do their jobs. We cannot ask people to report crimes to a police department which does not expect the same of its members.”  

    The department instructs new recruits in their obligations to report misconduct under Rules 21 and 22 as part of academy training, according to the OIG report. But the OIG found that post-academy training programs don’t emphasize the duty to report, as the obligation is often only given passing mention in use-of-force training or conflated with “duty to intervene” training.   

    “In addition to the lack of post-Academy training on the duty to report misconduct, OIG found that CPD does not take steps to remind members of or refresh them on the requirements of Rules 21 and 22,” the report stated. 

    The inspector general recommended CPD more “formally” incorporate Rule 21 and 22 instruction into post-academy training and suggested the department issue “periodic communications” to remind officers of the rules. The department agreed to issue a reminder in a quarterly newsletter, according to the OIG report. 

    Official CPD policy stands in favor of the duty to report and giving people multiple ways to report wrongdoing. The consent decree also mandates multiple “open and accessible” ways for employees and other individuals to report misconduct and calls for practices to protect complainants from retaliation. 

    But CPD and the consent decree make it clear that anonymous reporting is not sufficient for fulfilling an employees’ duty to report, the report said. COPA also told the OIG that regardless of anonymity, it is also not sufficient for an employee to only report misconduct to COPA. 

    “Despite the availability of many methods to report misconduct, provisions within the consent decree and CPD directives state that CPD members must report through their chain of command,” the report stated. “CPD directives and consent decree provisions further indicate that not all available reporting methods comply with Rules 21 and 22, thus effectively nullifying the broad range of reporting mechanisms that are technically available to CPD members.”  

    These contradictory policies result in both a chilling effect on officers’ willingness to report misconduct and a higher risk of retaliation for those who do report since they need to identify themselves, according to the report. 

    “We've left CPD members to navigate two conflicting sets of rules and left them vulnerable to retaliation,” Witzburg said Thursday.

    One solution the OIG suggested was for CPD to make better use of the CPD Member Hotline, a tool built by the OIG in 2017. The Member Hotline verifies the identity of an employee reporting wrongdoing but also gives the employee a unique identifier number, permitting the person to remain anonymous. It’s a tool that doesn’t receive the support it should from CPD, Witzburg said. 

    “[The Member Hotline] is not included in any training materials that the department offers,” Witzburg said. “It is not linked in any of the policies. It is not mentioned specifically as available to CPD members.”  

    CPD committed to the inspector’s recommendations to address inconsistencies in its policies regarding methods for reporting misconduct and said it would seek to make employees more aware of all available reporting methods, such as the Member Hotline. But police officials stopped short of fully committing to a “trackable, verified, anonymous” reporting system for officers to satisfy their duties under CPD policy. 

    In response to findings that BIA and COPA were not pursuing and enforcing violations of Rule 21 and 22 fairly and consistently, CPD agreed to more consistently ensure those entities were pursuing those violations. The department added that new directives had already been put in place with input that it believes satisfies the recommendation. COPA agreed there was “room to improve” but said it believed it was already “substantially addressing” the issues in the report and that it always considers all possible violations of conduct rules when investigating cases. 

    Witzburg said the OIG expects to follow up with CPD and COPA in about a year to inquire about the status of Rule 21 and 22 enforcement and see if reforms have been put in place. 

    “Chicago has a long and challenging history with misconduct in the police department and with the code of silence,” Witzburg said. “Thorough, thoughtful, meaningful enforcement of these rules is the only way that we leave that history behind us. It is the only way that we move ahead to an accountable and effective and legitimate police department.” 

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