Follow Up to Police Accountability Forum

The Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs Does Not Report Data That Would Allow The Public To Evaluate Whether It Is Processing Complaints of Police Misconduct Fairly.

–Gordon Waldron

Processing of complaints against police in Chicago is a Tale of Two Cities. The two cities are the Chicago Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), and the Bureau of Internal Affairs of the Chicago Police Department (BIA). By ordinance, IPRA is responsible for investigating complaints alleging excessive force, coercion with a threat of violence, bias-based verbal abuse, and domestic violence by an officer. All other complaints against the police are within BIA’s jurisdiction, including complaints of illegal searches and seizures, improper arrests, verbal abuse, coercion and criminal misconduct. IPRA is an open book compared to BIA in disclosing how it processes complaints. The information that BIA makes available on its webpage does not allow the public to evaluate how well it performs its duty of investigating and making decisions as to complaints by the public of police misconduct.

 

  • IPRA is required by ordinance to produce and make public quarterly reports disclosing the number of complaints it has received, investigated, and on which it made findings. BIA is not so required.
  • IPRA’s quarterly reports also summarize the factual bases (without naming names) of the complaints it has sustained, and state the discipline it has recommended for each sustained finding. BIA does neither.
  • IPRA is relatively transparent about how it processes complaints. BIA is not.

 

BIA’s 2013 annual report lists the number of complaints that it receives within its jurisdiction each year and the prior year, broken down into 15 categories. It also graphs that same data, and graphs it again as to the top 5 categories of complaints. It also reports on separation and suspension decisions of the Chicago Police Board. But it reports nothing about what it does with the complaints. It does not report how many it investigates per year or what its backlog of complaints is. It does not report how many findings it made or their categories. If you were to try to design an annual report to make it difficult for members of the City Council or the public to evaluate whether BIA is doing a good job of investigating complaints of police misconduct, it would be hard to design a more confusing one.

 

It turns out, however, that since at least 2004, the Chicago Police Superintendent has been submitting the Chicago Police Board monthly data on the number and categories of its findings on complaints. But you can’t find any link, much less reference, on BIA’s web page to that information. To its credit, the Chicago Police Board recently started posting that data on its web page.

You can find this data by going to the Chicago Police Board home page and clicking on “Public Meetings.” You will see a topic called “Regular Meetings.” For the May 2015 meeting, click on the term “Blue Book.” Then scroll down to page 14 of that document.

When either BIA or IPRA concludes that there is sufficient evidence to justify disciplinary action, they enter a “sustained” finding on the complaint. In 2014 BIA reported that 24% of its findings were in the “sustained” category, while IPRA reported that only 14% if its findings were in that category. You might conclude from this data that BIA was more pro-complainant than was IPRA, but you would be wrong. Here’s why:

  • About 40% of complaints that BIA investigates allege violations of the internal personnel and operational rules of the police department as to such matters as sick leave. Supervisors (not members of the public) typically file these complaints against subordinates. They are simpler and less significant than the complaints the public files alleging illegal searches and seizures, improper arrests, verbal abuse, coercion or criminal misconduct.
  • BIA transfers the responsibility of investigating some of its complaints to the various police districts.

 

Thus when BIA reports that 24% of its findings were sustained, it lumps together findings of personnel/operational violations with all the other types of violations, and it lumps together findings made by the police districts with findings it has made. It could be that all of the “sustained” findings found personnel/operational violations, or were all made by the police districts, not BIA. There is no way for the public to know. By lumping together data about different types of decisions, BIA hides important information. And it reveals no information that would allow the public to evaluate how BIA evaluates complaints of violations filed by members of the public against police officers.

Recent events in places like Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York remind us that the process of investigating complaints of police misconduct must be both fair and transparent. BIA fails the transparency test.

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