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Police Oversight Agency COPA Improperly Ended Misconduct Investigations, Inspector General Finds

The report cited several examples where criteria for administrative termination were not met, including an investigation into an incident where someone was found unresponsive in a cell and ultimately died.

A Chicago Police lieutenant obscures his badge number on his uniform during an anti-police brutality march through the Bronzeville neighborhood on August 15, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The Civilian Office of Police Accountability improperly ended some of its misconduct investigations of Chicago Police officers, the City’s Inspector General Joseph Ferguson said in a new report.

In an advisory report issued Thursday, the Office of the Attorney General said the Civilian Office of Police Accountability’s practice of “administratively terminating” misconduct complaints is “ill-defined and frequently misapplied, with inconsistencies and inaccuracies in its use.” The report calls for the police oversight agency to update and clarify its policies.

It is not known how many of the investigations that were administratively terminated were deemed improper. But since 2017, 376 investigations have been administratively terminated, according to the report. This accounts for 13.6 percent of all investigations closed by the agency by way of a “non-finding disposition.”

The report cited several example cases where criteria for administrative termination were not met, including an investigation into an “extraordinary occurrence notification” where someone was found unresponsive in a cell and ultimately died; an investigation into allegations of an officer using racist and ethnic slurs; and an investigation into allegations of excessive force.

Natalie Kuriata, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Inspector General, said the watchdog routinely reviews closed cases. The issue discovered necessitated the advisory, she said.

“When it rises to a level of an advisory and makes recommendations, that means the number is tangible,” Kuriata said.

Most Civilian Office of Police Accountability investigations conclude with a finding of sustained, not sustained or unfounded. Exonerated is another option. 

Some investigations can end without a finding, such as when the agency opts to end an investigation administratively. However, Administrative Termination is different and is not listed in the agency’s 2018 investigations manual as an available disposition, according to the Inspector General’s report.

The Office of the Inspector General wants the Civilian Office of Police Accountability to add policies on the use of administrative termination to its manual, establish clear and specific criteria for its use and ensure that all established criteria is met before administratively terminating any investigations. It also wants the agency to review investigations recently closed by administrative termination to ensure they were proper.

In a response to a May 27 letter sent by Ferguson advising Civilian Office of Police Accountability of the findings, COPA chief administrator Sydney Roberts wrote back July 1 that his agency “largely concurs” with the recommendations and said COPA is “currently developing policies that we believe will address your concerns.”

A Civilian Office of Police Accountability spokesman did not respond to calls and emails.

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