The agency tasked with investigating misconduct by Chicago police officers has closed 477 cases without recommending officers face discipline as part of an effort that began three months ago to clear a massive backlog, according to data from the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten on Tuesday told members of the City Council’s Budget and Government Operations Committee — which is examining the $16.8 million 2024 budget for the agency known as COPA — that she was proud there are less than 1,000 open cases on her desk, a reduction of 40% as compared with a year ago.
Kersten announced in June that she would seek to clear the agency’s backlog of cases more than 18 months old, which she said were compromising the ability of the agency to investigate more recent complaints alleging significant misconduct by officers.
While the department has closed 477 cases since the agency launched what it is calling the Timeliness Initiative in July, the agency has 269 cases dating from 2019, 2020 and 2021 still open, according to COPA data. That initiative was expected to review approximately 800 cases that allege misconduct by Chicago police officers but are more than 18 months old, Kersten said.
There are another 704 open cases that were filed in 2022 and 2023, according to COPA data.
Between 12% and 15% of all complaints result in documented findings of wrongdoing by police officers, Kersten said. That is in line with the national average, Kersten said.
Complaints that involve shootings, excessive force, sexual misconduct, domestic violence or bias will not be considered for closure under the Timeliness Initiative, Kersten said. Cases alleging “egregious” misconduct or those involving minors or vulnerable adults will not be closed either, Kersten added.
Cases that could be closed as part of this effort include complaints that officers inadvertently violated department policy, Kersten said, and the officers involved would get additional training in an effort to ensure they do not violate the same rule again.
Kersten said she decided to take action on COPA’s backlog after seeing dozens of recommendations for discipline overturned or significantly reduced by arbitrators, who must be sure that employees are treated fairly during disciplinary actions by ensuring complaints are handled swiftly, typically within 18 months, and that any punishment is in line with consequences faced by other officers with similar allegations.
Probes that take longer than 18 months almost never result in discipline for officers that is upheld after arbitration, Kersten said.
A 2021 audit by the city’s inspector general detailed that police officers found to have committed misconduct often see their punishment reduced after arbitration, which is required by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the unions representing Chicago’s police officers.
Kersten said she hopes her effort could be the first step in streamlining the complicated and lengthy process required before a Chicago police officer can be fired or even disciplined for misconduct. Delays frequently occur after COPA completes its investigations, as the Chicago Police superintendent reviews its findings and submits it to the Law Department.