Head of Police Oversight Agency Defends Operations After Critical Audit

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

The head of the agency charged with investigating allegations of police misconduct defended its operations after an audit by the city’s watchdog found it had failed to release video and audio recordings of use-of-force incidents within 60 days, as required by city law.

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Civilian Office of Police Accountability Chief Administrator Sydney Roberts told the city’s Police Board on Thursday night that the agency had “never intentionally withheld” information from the public.

The audit from Inspector General Joseph Ferguson does not accuse the agency of acting intentionally to violate the 2016 law passed by aldermen amid an outcry prompted by the revelation that city officials withheld for 13 months the video of former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, and only released it after a judge’s order.

Roberts acknowledged the agency’s operations have not been “perfect” and that officials “faced challenges” as it moved to release video and audio recordings as well as other documents. 

“We understand the importance” of meeting deadlines set in city law, Roberts said, adding that the agency was just one day late in 14 cases identified by the inspector general.

In 12 other cases, Roberts said recordings and documents were released within 60 days of investigators confirming that an incident occurred that required the release of records.

The inspector general’s audit examined 122 use-of-force incidents that triggered the disclosure rules from June 2016 to February 2019. In 27% of cases, no information was released within 60 days as required, according to the audit.

The video release policy applies to all incidents in which an officer fires their gun — whether or not a person is struck — deploys their Taser or when force used by an officer causes a person to die or suffer great bodily harm. 

In other cases, the police oversight agency did not receive video and audio files from the Office of Emergency Management Communications in time to release them within 60 days. City agencies can ask the Law Department for a 30-day delay, and must abide by a court order not to release the footage or documents.

OEMC failed to fulfill 57% of the agency’s requests for video and audio footage within 60 days, making it impossible for the oversight agency to comply with the law in those cases, according to the audit.

Officials from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office did not dispute the audit’s findings, and agreed to coordinate efforts among the city agencies and departments to address the audit’s findings.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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