The Chicago Police Department continues to employ more than 100 officers who knowingly provided false information during criminal investigations, according to a report released Thursday by the city’s watchdog agency.
The Office of the Inspector General found that “structural failures” in CPD’s accountability systems allow staff who have breached Rule 14 to continue in positions “which depend on their honesty and trustworthiness”.
Rule 14 of the CPD prohibits officers from “making a false report, whether written or oral.” A sustained violation of the rule usually spells the end of an officer’s career because he can no longer provide accurate testimony under oath.
The various watchdogs that monitor CPD misconduct all agree that persistent Rule 14 violations should automatically trigger an officer’s termination.
Of the more than 100 officers who violated Rule 14, several continue to serve as officers and detectives, the IG said.
“Effective enforcement of Rule 14 is what stands between us and a world where cops get away with lying. We cannot count on effective, accountable law enforcement unless we take every opportunity to build trust,” said Inspector General Deborah Witzburg. “We can’t protect people from crimes we can’t prosecute, and we can’t build trust without the truth.”
Rule 14 isn’t being enforced in part because of gaps in policy and procedures, as well as case-by-case decisions, Witzburg said in a live broadcast detailing the 40-page report Thursday.
The report described instances where CPD members violated Rule 14 but were not separated from the department. Other case studies described Rule 14 violations that were not prosecuted after the officers were found to have lied and the Rule 14 violations were expunged from the officers’ disciplinary histories.
Witzburg’s Rule 14 investigation was mandated by a full consent decree that a federal judge ordered the police department to follow in 2019. She noted that the rule prohibiting lying was one of a few departmental rules and trends that the executive order ordered her office to review to highlight the rule’s importance.
In response to the CPD investigation, the Office of Civil Police Accountability and the Chicago Police Council acknowledged the seriousness of the Rule 14 violation. However, the department disagreed with the report’s recommendations to fire the offending officers.
Departments cannot fire Rule 14 violators because employees have due process rights guaranteed by collective bargaining agreements that prohibit prejudicial discipline without considering the specific circumstances of each case, according to responses attached to the report.
Departments rejected several of the report’s recommendations, saying they were not feasible or already in place. CPD agreed to conduct an annual review of where Rule 14 violators were assigned, create new training for internal investigators to recognize violations and said it is working to better inform prosecutors about violations.
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CPD has taken note of the IG’s recommendations and is moving forward to implement some of the recommendations, the department wrote in a statement Thursday.
“Chicago Police Department officers are held to the highest standards. Our jurors and civilian members are expected to act with integrity as we work to build and maintain credibility and trust among the communities we serve,” the department wrote.
Lying by officers undermines the public’s trust in the police, harming their ability to function, COPA Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten said in a statement Thursday.
“COPA firmly maintains its position that employees found to have intentionally lied in an official report or statement should be held accountable. These actions not only negatively impact the Department’s reform efforts, but may undermine the integrity of our criminal justice system,” Kersten wrote.
In its response, the police commission said it had been five years since it had imposed a less severe penalty than discharge for the offence. The May 2018 case, in which two officers violated Rule 14 cited by the IG’s office, involved an incident that took place twelve years ago, in 2004, board leaders wrote.
The officers were early in their careers and received “extraordinarily compelling witness testimony,” the board wrote, all factors that contributed to its more lenient decision to suspend them for three years. The board has since ordered the dismissal of 21 officers for violating Rule 14, according to reports.
While departments cannot currently commit to specific prescribed discipline, the IG’s office could recommend that the City Council pass legislation requiring the firing of any officer found guilty of violating Rule 14, the board and COPA said.