The city’s internal watchdog has found the agency that investigates misconduct by Chicago police officers has improperly — and inconsistently — ended some of its inquiries without coming to a conclusion.
The Office of the Inspector General issued its advisory findings Thursday, saying that the Civilian Office of Police Accountability’s practice of “administratively terminating” misconduct complaints “is ill-defined and frequently misapplied.”
The OIG said the misuse of administrative terminations “represents a risk that an allegation of police misconduct is improperly disposed of without ensuring either accountability or vindication for a Chicago Police Department member.”
It’s unclear how many administrative termination cases the OIG found to be improper, but the agency said it reviews closed cases on a regular basis “and makes recommendations to inform and improve future investigations.”
The OIG recommended that COPA add policies and specify criteria on the use of administrative termination to its investigations manual. The agency also called for COPA to “review investigations recently closed by administrative termination to ensure their dispositions were appropriate.”
The OIG also called for COPA to ensure that “all potentially appropriate dispositions are considered” and for its investigators to “refrain from administratively terminating investigations based solely on the age of the complaint or to increase case closure capacity.”
In an emailed statement, a spokesman for COPA said the agency is “currently developing policies that we believe will address the concerns of the Public Safety Inspector General, gain federal Independent Monitoring Team approval, and comply fully with Consent Decree mandates.”
COPA investigations can end with one of several different outcomes. Allegations against an officer can be sustained, not sustained or unfounded. An officer can also be exonerated.
If an allegation is sustained, COPA will then make a recommendation for discipline to the Chicago Police Board, the body that ultimately decides on punishments for CPD officers.
Some COPA investigations, however, can be closed without an investigative finding, such as when a complainant does not give a sworn statement or when COPA opts to end an investigation administratively.
Editor’s note: This article was updated to include a response from the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.