The Way to Police Accountability

Clearly, we have a reprehensible police accountability problem in Chicago. Read Part 1 of this blog for an in-depth look at the numbers that demonstrate just how bad it is.


But thus far, the mayor has refused to acknowledge the very existence of this problem. And short of a consent decree—such as those handed down in DetroitNew OrleansCleveland, and Los Angeles in recent years by the Department of Justice —we cannot begin to solve this problem without the cooperation of the mayor, the superintendent, the city council, and other key city stakeholders.

There is no shortage of proposals to bring greater transparency and accountability to the oversight of police in Chicago. All we have to do is take a look at what many other cities around the country are already doing to address similar problems of police misconduct. We certainly support sorely-needed reforms to the structure and policies of IPRA and the Police Board that would give those agencies greater independence from the police department and make them more directly accountable to our neighborhoods. Similarly, we advocate for changes in police practices and policies that would curb police bias, harassment, and violence in communities of color. But above all, Community Renewal Society is calling for the establishment of an independent Police Auditor that would work on behalf of the citizens of Chicago to ensure that every police officer—from the beat cops to the superintendent—is held accountable for their actions.

A Police Auditor is an independent police accountability agency that has access to all police records and data to: audit compliance with federal, state, city, and departmental codes; analyze patterns of police misconduct or bias; and propose and enforce changes in policies to promote more efficient, fair, and transparent police oversight. The office could be established by city ordinance. In our proposal, the Police Auditor would receive a small percentage of the Chicago Police Department’s budget each year (currently $1.4 billion) to hire investigators, attorneys, researchers, and other necessary staff to perform complete oversight of the police department, IPRA, and the Police Board. The Police Auditor would be headed by the Chief Auditor, who would be a civilian appointed by an independent, third-party agency outside of city hall. It is imperative that the Chief Auditor not be appointed by the mayor, the police superintendent, or anyone else within city government so that the Police Auditor can remain truly independent. In creating such an auditor, Chicago would be following the successful blueprints of New York, Los Angeles, San Jose, Denver, and Seattle—all of which have all created similar offices.

The Police Auditor would be responsible for auditing three city departments/agencies: the Chicago Police Department, the Independent Police Review Authority, and the Police Board. These entities and their employees would be required by law to cooperate with the Police Auditor by providing testimony, data, records, and anything else that the Police Auditor deems necessary to complete an audit. There would be serious and unambiguous penalties for agencies or employees who refuse to cooperate.

The Police Auditor’s audits of the Chicago Police Department would include:

  • Department policies and practices to determine compliance and identify problematic policing trends and patterns, including excessive force, officer-involved shootings, and racial bias;

  • Investigations of officers who have received a disproportionate number of complaints and the power to recommend specific types of intervention for officers who exhibit patterns of misconduct; and

  • Review of Contact Cards, Tactical Response Reports, Arrest Reports, and other police reports to identify specific cases for further investigation or patterns of problematic police practices.

The Police Auditor’s would audit each step of the Independent Police Review Authority’s role in the complaint process:

  • Intake: inspect for a simple, non-threatening process for citizens to file a complaint against a police officer;

  • Classification: ensure that complaints are being assigned properly, including the power to change a complaint classification or refer a complaint to the proper authority for criminal investigation of an officer;

  • Investigation: review for timely, unbiased, and professional investigations in which the finding is supported by a preponderance of the evidence, including the power to require further investigation into a specific complaint; and

  • Discipline: ensure discipline is being applied in a fair and consistent manner adhering to the standards of the discipline matrix, including the power to recommend a different disciplinary action.

The Police Auditor’s audits of the Police Board would include:

  • The policies and practices of the Police Board, including the appointment of its members, its hearings, and its public meetings;

  • The findings and disciplinary decisions of the Police Board; and

  • The structure and guidelines of the standardized discipline matrix used to determine appropriate discipline for officer misconduct.

Based upon the findings of these audits, the Police Auditor would have the power to propose and enforce policy recommendations to reform the Police Department, IPRA, or the Police Board. In order to give the Police Auditor’s proposals fair and objective consideration, there would be a multi-step process.

First, the Chief Auditor would submit the recommendation to the head of the department/agency which the recommendation affects. Then, if the head of the department/agency approves the recommended reform, a plan to implement it will be agreed upon. However, if the head of the department/agency refuses to accept or implement the change, they must submit a written refusal to the Chief Auditor and the City Council Committee on Public Safety. In this case, the Public Safety Committee would hold a public hearing on the proposal and then vote on whether to require its implementation. For the purposes of transparency, each step of this policy recommendation process would be required to be documented and reported to the public.

In all its audits, investigations, and policy proposals, the Police Auditor would remain transparent and accountable to the citizens of Chicago by publicly reporting its findings. A series of mandated public reports would be published online and give citizens full access to the Police Auditor’s oversight of police.

Overhauling Chicago’s police accountability system and resolving the problem of police misconduct in our communities cannot be achieved with any single policy reform. But that is precisely why we believe that creating a Police Auditor with the power to identify patterns of misconduct and continually address them through reforms is the best step we can take towards establishing real police accountability in Chicago. A Police Auditor is our best hope for systemic change—to create and sustain reforms over the long term and reduce police misconduct year after year.

Now is the time, Mayor Emanuel. Establish a Police Auditor before the next tragedy in one of our neighborhoods at the hands of a police officer.