CHICAGO — Chicago’s Inspector General hammered the Police Department on a host of issues Monday during what could be his last budget hearing before City Council.
Among the litany of complaints, Inspector General Joe Ferguson said the Police Department failed to maintain a “do-not-hire” list, hasn’t used an anonymous portal created to end the “code of silence” and hasn’t realigned police beats in 50 years.
Police also slow-rolled providing information on use-of-force complaints stemming from civil unrest this summer, Ferguson said.
During a hearing examining the Office of Inspector General’s $15.9 million budget, Ferguson reviewed past investigations his office made into the police department, suggested more were to come and offered his own take on the hot-button issue of reallocating resources away from police to fund other city services.
The city will remain under the federally mandated consent decree guiding reform of the department “for a long time,” and the “architecture” overseeing police reforms beyond the “floor” of the consent decree is in a state of uncertainty, Ferguson said.
Ferguson revealed that Tamika Puckett, hired last year by Mayor Lori Lightfoot as the city’s first Chief Risk Officer, recently took a job at video conferencing giant Zoom. Puckett was leading an effort to mitigate the number of lawsuits filed against the city, including those stemming from use-of-force incidents with police officers.
Puckett’s exit follows the departures of Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Susan Lee and Deputy Police Supt. Barbara West, who oversaw the office of constitutional policing and reform.
Those vacancies are on top of the city’s inability to establish a civilian police oversight body, such as CPAC or GAPA, Ferguson said. Three years ago, Ferguson and Lightfoot – the head of the police board — chaired the Police Accountability Task Force which recommended the creation of the oversight board in the wake of the police killing of Laquan McDonald.
“We don’t even have the infrastructure in place right now as we’re doing the work. It’s like trying to fix the airplane while it’s in the air,” he said, before offering another analogy.
“The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. Take that and apply it to an octopus, and that’s where we are right now,” he said.
“My fear is we’re just going to pass a tipping point where all of that hard work we are doing is not going to be seen with the requisite legitimacy because we don’t have that in place,” he said.
The city has yet to vote on the competing proposals for a civilian oversight board. Lightfoot is expected to introduce a third option later this month.
In response to questions from Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), Ferguson said the police department’s unwillingness to maintain a “do-not-hire” list has led at least one officer who was under investigation by the department to quit his post and land a job with another department whose leaders were unaware he was recommended for terminiation.
“I think it’s very important to sort of press the question of why it is the police department, unlike any other department in the city, does not place people on do-not-hire lists, which would protect other city departments, other sister agencies and other governmental bodies,” he said.
Hairston also asked how many internal complaints were made by officers against others in the department, including supervisors. Ferguson said there’s a lack of data to assess that.
Ferguson said police brass haven’t supported a $20,000 anonymous portal set up by the OIG’s office to field complaints from officers against others in the department.
Despite the lack of support, he said one tip the OIG office received led to a commander losing his post and noted “there was no outing and no retaliation against those officers.”
Despite the incredible changes of Chicago’s neighborhoods in the last half-century, Ferguson told Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) the police department hasn’t had a “comprehensive realignment” of police beats in 50 years, although there have been changes to beats in limited circumstances.
Without studying police beats, it’s hard for city leaders to make decisions on where police resources should be allocated, Ervin said.
“People do not like to lose police resources, but if we don’t have the funding to give everybody truly what they want, we have to do the best with what we have,” he said. Ervin also said he hopes the OIG office leads a study of the issue, so City Council “can get a handle on where our resources are and where they should be.”
Ferguson also previewed two reports he expects to issue in the coming months.
His office has long been prepared to release a report on their investigation into use of force complaints stemming from the police response to civil unrest this summer, but there has been a “very, very long lag” time for police leaders to provide information and data on those incidents.
He also expects an audit into the nature of citywide 911 calls, which could shape the debate on whether mental health professionals should respond to certain emergencies alongside or without law enforcement.
Under pressure from progressive aldermen to share his thoughts on the issue of defunding the police, Ferguson said any efforts to reallocate resources away from the department should consider three criteria: “what do [police officers] do, is that what we want them to do and is that what they’re actually trained to do, and is there somebody better to do it.”
Ferguson agreed with Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) the best place to decide the future role of the department may be in a special committee of the City Council.
The hearing may be the last for Ferguson, who has served as Inspector General since 2008 and whose term is up for renewal next year. The Sun-Times reported Mayor Lori Lightfoot has not made a public commitment to keep him around beyond 2021.
For his part, Ferguson said the city is “in a world of hurt” right now and his status isn’t urgent. He expects to comment further next year.
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