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Acting inspector general sounds the alarm about CFD badges reported missing or stolen within months of retirement

Over a 5.5-year period ending on June 30, 2020, 340 CFD members reported their badges stolen or lost to police. Nearly 80% of those reports came from retiring firefighters.

A new paramedic holds a badge during the graduation ceremony of Chicago Fire Department’s class of 2021 paramedics at the Aon Grand Ballroom in Navy Pier, Wednesday morning, Sept. 29, 2021.
A new paramedic holds a badge during the graduation ceremony of Chicago Fire Department’s class of 2021.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

The inspector general’s office is sounding the alarm about a troubling practice in the Chicago Fire Department apparently driven by nostalgia: hundreds of CFD badges reported missing or stolen by firefighters and paramedics within months of their retirement.

Unlike police badges that allow the holder to carry a gun and bypass police lines, CFD badges simply carry the appearance of authority with no specific power.

Sources say they are mostly valued for nostalgia, much like a Major League Baseball player would save the ball or bat used in their first hit or home run.

Over a 5.5-year period ending on June 30, 2020, 340 CFD members reported their badges stolen or lost to the Chicago Police Department. Nearly 80% of those reports, or 271, came from retiring firefighters and paramedics, 22.6% of them within six months of calling it quits.

In a five-page advisory released Tuesday, acting Inspector General William Marback suggested several probable causes for the suspicious pattern of badge thefts.

Chief among them, he said, was retiring firefighters and paramedics “committing theft of city property” and “filing false police reports to cover up the theft,” so they can keep the badges that offer the most enduring memory of their time of service.

Another possible reason, Marback wrote, is that “CFD members may be misplacing their badges and not reporting them missing or stolen until it is time to return their badges” upon retirement.

“Both scenarios constitute control and misconduct concerns,” the advisory states.

“Theft of city property and filing false police reports are crimes. Failing to immediately report a missing or stolen CFD badge is a violation of CFD general orders and the [city] personnel rules.”

In response to the IG’s advisory, CFD and the Office of Public Safety Administration have jointly agreed to tighten regulations by:

• Collecting badges from departing firefighters and paramedics and making badge surrender a condition of retirement.

• Requiring lost or stolen badges to be reported to CFD within 24 hours, referred to Internal Affairs within 72 hours and mandating the department to track those reports for “trends and operational concerns.”

• Ordering retirees who lose or destroy their badges to pay the cost of replacement or face fines, disciplinary action and wage garnishment

“The failure to properly account for CFD badges is a control risk and raises concerns for potential misconduct,” Marback said in a news release accompanying the advisory.

“The Chicago Fire Department and the Office of Public Safety Administration has offered assurance that the issue of lost or stolen badges will be taken seriously and have committed to adhering to proper protocols concerning city property and the enforcement of discipline when staff aren’t in compliance with [those] protocols.”

The inspector general’s office launched its review after receiving information in November 2018 that more than 300 badges had been reported as lost in the previous three years.

It was “characterized as an ‘institutionalized accepted practice,’ which frequently occurred when a firefighter [was] reaching retirement,” the advisory states.

Since 2018, CFD has allowed retiring members to keep their badges for $225. But the advisory notes that the retained badge is “not the same” as the one carried by active members. It is encased in plexiglass with the word “retired” on it.