Misconduct Investigations of Chicago Police Officers to be Made Public

About two weeks ago the Chicago Police Department announced a forthcoming new policy that will make all misconduct investigations into individual officers public for the first time. This is  a radical shift from the traditional policy that often left the public in the dark about complaints against officers. The department will work with the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability to develop a system that will allow for records held by the Bureau of Internal Affairs (“BIA”) to be made available to the public. “This is a huge step forward for transparency,” said Commission President Anthony Driver Jr., “BIA handles some of the most serious cases of alleged police misconduct and for decades, we’ve been in the dark about those cases.” The BIA is responsible for investigating allegations of criminal conduct of officers, as well as complaints of civil rights violations and claims made in lawsuits against individual officers. There is already a civilian led agency, COPA, that investigates police shootings and deaths in custody, as well as allegations of domestic violence, excessive force and sexual misconduct and makes their findings public, but the new policy will seemingly bring other allegations and outcomes of misconduct to the public’s attention. However, it is not clear what the limits, if any, there will be to what information is released to the public, and the Police Department says that they do not currently have enough staff to redact information necessary to protect individuals but plans on moving forward with the plan once it has the necessary resources. Chicago Police Superintendent Larry Snelling welcomed the transparency, saying, “When someone makes a complaint about one of our officers, they deserve to know how that case got resolved. Transparency benefits everyone and makes us a better department.”

Policy Follows Enhanced Transparency in Body-Worn Cameras

The new policy surrounding complaints against officers comes as the Chicago Police Department already leads the nation with some of the most transparent policies when it comes to releasing body-worn camera footage, according to many experts in the field. The change in policy, along with the creation of COPA itself, came after the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, which drew outrage and national headlines over how the police and city sought to suppress the release of a dashcam video of the shooting. In response, now decisions of whether to allow body-worn camera footage to be released to the public are made by an independent accountability office, not the police department itself. “I’m not aware of any other civilian agency that does what Chicago does on releasing video,” said Florence Finkle, vice president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. “I think Chicago may have more civilian oversight than other police forces in the country right now,” said Arewa Winters, a Chicago community organizer. Such transparency is essential to building trust in the community and holding everyone, even police officers, accountable for their actions. Despite the praise, Chicago still has a long way to go to provide transparency, especially in a timely fashion. There are backlogs of Freedom of Information Act requests and regular refusal to provide body worn camera footage due to the need for redaction. Those who believe they have been the victim of police abuse or misconduct should consult with an attorney who can help navigate the complicated network of agencies and policies to get the release of evidence necessary to seek justice through a civil rights lawsuit or otherwise.