Chicago Police Department Must Improve Methods, Clarify Rules for Reporting Officer Misconduct, Watchdog Report Finds

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

A city watchdog report has found Chicago Police Department rules that require the reporting of officer misconduct have been underenforced and are in some cases conflicting — issues which contribute to the existence of a so-called “code of silence.”

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Inspector General Deborah Witzburg’s office on Thursday published a new report that detailed how CPD members currently operate under two conflicting sets of policies when it comes to department rules requiring police to report crimes or rule violations committed by fellow officers.

”The bottom line here is that the existence of these rules on the books has not, historically, been sufficient to eliminate the code of silence,” Witzburg said Thursday.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) said it was required through the consent decree to review the CPD’s guidelines on reporting methods for crimes and rule violations.

Despite the existence of those rules, the OIG discovered that officers are operating under two sets of policies at odds with one another — which her office said permit anonymous reporting mechanisms, but render anonymous reports inadequate to satisfy an officer’s duty to report.

Witzburg also found that the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and the department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs don’t consistently pursue violations when officers fail to report misconduct.

“One of the ways that we solve crimes is that we ask people, we ask Chicagoans to report to the police department,” Witzburg said. “We cannot ask people to report crimes to a police department which does not expect the same of its members.”

Witzburg said it’s “critically important” to have an anonymous method for officers to report misconduct due to the “very real” concerns they have of possible retaliation that could come with attaching their name to such a complaint. Having such a reporting tool is a “best practice” throughout law enforcement, she said.

Recommendations from Witzburg’s office to the CPD include: incorporating duty-to-report requirements into its in-service training program; resolving internal inconsistencies in its own policies; and enacting policies that allow for trackable, verified, anonymous misconduct complaints made through OIG’s CPD Member Hotline, or another similar system, to satisfy members’ reporting obligations.

The police department should also regularly inform members of all available misconduct reporting methods, while COPA and the BIA should consistently pursue rule violations when officers fail to report misconduct.

Witzburg said the CPD’s response to these recommendations has been mixed. The department has pledged to improve its training and make sure officers are more aware of their duty to report misconduct.

But the CPD has not committed to adding a verified, anonymous reporting mechanism, saying instead it would commit to reviewing that matter further.

“Chicago has a long and challenging history with misconduct in the police department and with the code of silence,” she 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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