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Chicago PD Takes Step Towards Transparency, Will Release All Misconduct Records To The Public

I don’t often praise law enforcement agencies, generally because they rarely do anything praise-worthy. And the Chicago PD is so fraught with problems and problematic tactics that it’s difficult to give it credit even when credit is due.

But here we are, doing the difficult thing. After years of fighting to keep this information secret (thanks to endless pressure applied by local law enforcement unions), the Chicago PD is going to open up its officer misconduct books to the public. Tom Schuba has the details for WBEZ Chicago:

The Chicago Police Department announced Thursday that records of all misconduct investigations will soon be made public, bringing light to a disciplinary process that has long faced criticism for being secretive and overly lenient.

The department and the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability vowed in a statement to work together in the coming weeks to create a policy that allows for the release of disciplinary records maintained by the Bureau of Internal Affairs.

“This is a huge step forward for transparency,” said Anthony Driver Jr., the commission president. “BIA handles some of the most serious cases of alleged police misconduct and for decades, we’ve been in the dark about those cases.”

This is a big move forward for pretty much any law enforcement agency in Illinois, much less the largest in the state. Just two years ago, public records requesters were calling Illinois cop shops an accountability black hole — a place where misconduct records went to be blinked out of existence. This was confirmed everything dug up by the Chicago Tribune in 2017 in a report that definitively showed the PD had little interest in investigating, much less punishing, officers accused of misconduct.

The Chicago PD was no different. Its opacity efforts went above and beyond. Back in 2017, it even abused copyright law to keep a copy of a 35-year-old training film out of the hands of the public.

Things are a little different in 2024. The PD has created tons of negative press thanks to the actions of officers who obviously felt their misdeeds would never be punished, much less made public. How else do you explain the PD running its own “black site” where detainees were taken, deprived of their rights, and (in some cases) tortured by police officers?

The biggest difference might be the fact that the Chicago PD is under a consent decree imposed by the Department of Justice. In addition to mandating de-escalation training and stipulations designed to break the “code of silence” police officers utilize so often when a fellow officer is being investigated, the agreement also calls for increased transparency and accountability.

This unexpected misconduct record windfall, however, might be more closely linked to a recent release of misconduct investigation files — ones that showed the PD brass had no problem with officers being members of right wing extremist groups.

Chicago Police Department leaders said Thursday they have decided not to punish any officers whose names appeared on the leaked membership list of the Oath Keepers, an anti-government extremist group that played a key role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

“The investigation is closed and the allegations were not sustained,” a spokeswoman for the CPD said in a statement, declining to provide any documents from the internal probe.

The brief statement stood in stark contrast to Chicago Police Supt. Larry Snelling’s zero-tolerance vow to the City Council in October, after WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times revealed the misconduct records of cops with ties to the Oath Keepers.

The general public is pretty sick of hearing the phrase “allegations were not sustained,” especially when the government entity performing the internal investigation is unwilling to let the public see the contents of these files. The public should be allowed to draw its own conclusions from the evidence. It’s not like the public can actually override PD and BIA (Bureau of Internal Investigations) decisions, but it should at least be given an opportunity to view the evidence for themselves, especially when it comes to serious matters like these, where cops are joining groups that have participated in things like the attempt to hijack the electoral process on January 6, 2021.

Of course, being proactive means being able to control the output. The Chicago PD has promised unprecedented transparency, but we’ll have to see what it actually delivers. It still has the discretion to release only the related documents it wants to release as well as the ability to redact any released misconduct files into uselessness. But it’s still a positive step forward and a huge improvement over the opacity status quo. And for that it should be commended. But I would still recommend we hold our applause until we’ve had a chance to see this new directive in action.

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