Chicago watchdog finds CPD fails to meet legal obligations on records requests


A report from the Office of the Inspector General says that the Chicago Police Department is not meeting its legal obligations on records requests.

The Public Safety section of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) has completed a follow-up to its June 2020 review of the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) management and production of records. Based on responses from CPD, OIG concludes that the Department has undertaken almost no corrective actions in response to OIG’s recommendations. As a result, CPD’s ability to meaningfully ensure that it is fulfilling all of its legal and constitutional obligations remains seriously impaired.

In its 2020 evaluation, OIG found that CPD lacked the means to determine what records may exist in CPD’s possession for any case, incident, or individual, and that it was therefore impossible for CPD to ensure that it had identified and produced all relevant records when required to do so in the context of criminal or civil litigation. OIG further determined that CPD’s practices for searching for records were inconsistent across and within units, that it did not systematically track requests for records and responses to those requests, and that the Department’s policies on the legal review of information to be produced for privacy and public safety concerns lacked clarity.

OIG made various recommendations to improve CPD’s management and production of records. Specifically, we recommended that CPD charge a single unit with responsibility for creating and implementing policies, procedures, and training around records management; audit and evaluate its records management and production; improve transparency with stakeholders in the criminal justice and civil litigation systems; develop better a mechanism to search its information systems; and develop and implement a comprehensive, automated records management system. CPD agreed with some of OIG’s recommendations; however, in June 2021, OIG inquired about the status of corrective actions and, based on CPD’s response, determined that CPD has implemented very few measures.

CPD has developed better search functions within its information systems and has converted some paper files into electronic formats, but has elsewhere fallen significantly short of meeting OIG’s recommendations. Specifically, CPD has not undertaken a comprehensive staffing and resource analysis to determine how to meaningfully meet records production obligations; has not designated a single unit responsible for policies, procedures, and training; has not developed policies, procedures, and trainings to ensure the effective identification and production of records across all CPD units; and has not developed a comprehensive records management system that allows for the automation of all CPD records. This lack of progress poses an ongoing, inadequately mitigated risk that the Department is failing to meet its fundamental obligations.

“Over a year ago, we noted that CPD’s failure to identify and produce records in its possession put due process and the fairness of criminal and civil litigation at stake, and that the potential consequences of this failure were tremendous for litigants and for the City,” said Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety Deborah Witzburg. “We find now that very little has been done to improve the circumstances which led to those conclusions. While CPD has made some adjustments, it remains unable to ensure that it is identifying and producing all relevant records in its possession when obligated to do so. In the interests of meeting its legal and constitutional mandates, minimizing risk to the City, and improving public trust and confidence in the transparency and competence of the Department, OIG urges CPD to meet its commitments to improvement.”

The follow-up report can be found here.

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