Chicago’s New Inspector General Vows to Not ‘Back Down From Difficult Questions’

Video: Video: Inspector General Deborah Witzburg appears on “Chicago Tonight” to discuss her new position and plans for the office. (Produced by Blair Paddock)

Inspector General Deborah Witzburg vowed to tackle Chicago’s “legitimacy deficit” by holding city officials who abuse the public trust accountable while working to reform the Chicago Police Department in order to reduce violence. 

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

The promise came during a Monday interview with “Chicago Tonight.” Confirmed unanimously by the Chicago City Council on April 27, Witzburg will face a series of daunting challenges during her four-year term, not least of which is the deeply rooted corruption that has led to the conviction of 37 members of the Chicago City Council since 1969. 

“This is a problem of institutional culture,” Witzburg said. “We are in a city where our government operates at a legitimacy deficit. Acts of public corruption by public officials contribute to that deficit of trust and legitimacy.” 

But Witzburg vowed to tackle that misconduct head on. 

“Corruption is a nail that needs a lot of hammers,” Witzburg said. 

Witzburg will also play a key role in the implementation of the consent decree that requires the Chicago Police Department to change the way it operates in the wake of a 2017 federal investigation that found CPD officers routinely violated the constitutional rights of Black and Latino Chicagoans. 

Police reform will be among her office’s highest priorities, Witzburg said. 

“We really need to direct our thinking toward a world in which we do not think about police reform and violence reduction as alternatives to each other but rather as necessary components,” Witzburg said. “We need to reform the police department not instead of fighting violent crime but so that we can more effectively keep people safe.” 

Witzburg declined to comment on the department’s still-underdevelopment foot pursuit policy, which the consent decree monitoring team said should be improved to be “better and more instructive” in order to protect the “sanctity of life.” 

In addition, Witzburg called for the Chicago Police Department to operate with greater transparency. While serving as the deputy inspector general for public safety, Witzburg championed an effort to create a database of misconduct complaints filed against Chicago police officers

That push stalled a year ago amid deep acrimony and tepid support from Lightfoot. 

Lightfoot declined to reappoint former Inspector General Joseph Ferguson to a fourth term in office after the two repeatedly clashed over a number of issues, including efforts to reform the Chicago Police Department and the way the mayor and police leaders handled the protests and unrest triggered by the police murder of George Floyd in May 2020

Several members of the Chicago City Council expected Lightfoot to tap Witzburg to serve as the interim inspector general after Ferguson’s term ended on Oct. 15. Instead, the mayor tapped William Marback, who served as the deputy inspector general for investigations, to serve as the city’s watchdog on an interim basis. 

After Ferguson left office — blasting her and her administration as incompetent — Lightfoot told reporters the city’s next inspector general should be someone who “understands the importance of staying in their lane.” 

After vowing to continue the good work started by Ferguson, Witzburg said Monday she would ensure that she will do everything in her power to make sure her office “occupies every corner of its legal mandate, which is a broad one.” 

The final audit conducted by Witzburg as Ferguson’s deputy found that Chicago Police were more likely to stop Black Chicagoans than White Chicagoans and more likely to use force against them. 

“I didn’t back down from difficult questions when I was deputy [inspector general] for public safety and I won’t do so as inspector general,” Witzburg said. 

Chicago was without a City Council-confirmed inspector general for nearly 200 days. 

The City Council should consider changing the law governing the replacement of an inspector general to prevent such a long delay in the future, said Witzburg, who spent six years in the inspector general’s office before being elevated to the top job. 

“We would all have been better off if this process had gone faster,” Witzburg said. 

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors