City inspector general’s office defends police transparency concerns at public safety hearing


The city Office of the Inspector General is calling for more transparency from Chicago police following a full review of police procedures last year, along with a multiyear study of 911 call responses.

The office’s most recent criticisms of CPD include slow response to 911 calls, over-policing of Black residents and sporadic concern by internal watchdogs with disciplinary reviews.

“Transparency is going to be required in order to improve policing, public safety and police accountability,” Tobara Richardson, deputy inspector general for public safety, told aldermen Friday at a joint meeting between the City Council’s Public Safety and Police and Fire committees.

Friday’s meeting echoed a Sept. 6 report from the inspector general calling for greater transparency in CPD response to 911 calls. Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications fields and dispatches 3,500 911 calls daily. The OIG looked at 6.5 million 911 calls made from 2017 to 2021.

A Tribune analysis of 2022 city data found that tens of thousands of serious calls lingered in the 911 system for longer than it typically takes to get a pizza delivered. Officer response times have gained additional public scrutiny as police struggle to disrupt a string of overnight armed robberies and carjackings.

The volume of 911 calls made by residents has decreased by 2.3% since 2021, Richardson said.

The office found that in 2022, Black residents were “far more likely” to be stopped by police during traffic and investigatory stops. The office found a similar disparity in use of force, though not in stops where officers applied multiple types of force against one person.

The police’s 11th District, which includes parts of Humboldt Park, West Garfield Park and Homan Square on the West Side, saw the most arrests per capita in 2022, Richardson said.

Despite inquiries from some council members, including Ald. Desmon Yancy, 5th, and Ald. Nicholas Sposato, 38th, Richardson and Inspector General Deborah Witzburg held firm to their findings of bias against Black residents.

“Black subjects are the only racial or ethnic group overrepresented in investigatory stops as compared to their proportion of the Chicago population,” said Richardson, later adding: “The disparity cannot be explained entirely by different patterns of officer behavior in the districts that CPD defines as high-crime.”

Tobara Richardson, deputy inspector general for public safety, speaks during a meeting of the Chicago Police Board at police headquarters on Aug. 17, 2023, in Chicago.

Richardson also criticized CPD’s bureau of internal affairs, saying that the unit doesn’t always take public safety recommendations to heart. The department was quick, she conceded, to follow inspector general recommendations in 2022 mandating at least nine hours between back-to-back shifts for officers.

CPD’s budget in 2022 was just under $1.9 billion, nearly 90% of which went to salaries and wages.

Chicago police officers are supposed to record the time when they acknowledge they are being dispatched, when they are on the way and when they are on scene. Historically, officers’ recording drops off between dispatch and arrival, the report states.

In just under half of all 911 calls responded to from 2017 to 2021, CPD officers failed to record their time of arrival to a scene, the inspector general found.

Data was more complete and available for emergencies marked high priority at the time of dispatch.

The city will move to a new computer aided dispatch system in March, in which police cars will be tracked by GPS, the report said. City employees started training with the new system this month.

The 911 calls in Chicago were concentrated on the South and West sides. Call hot spots in 2022 included West Garfield Park, North Lawndale, Greater Grand Crossing and Grand Boulevard, with high call volumes also coming from the Loop.

The OIG also sought feedback from 20 residents across 12 community groups citywide. Participating neighborhoods included Uptown, Englewood and Austin. Community organizations largely hold low CPD staffing levels responsible for the delay, the report found.

Delayed police response leads some to avoid hailing the city at all during emergencies, the report says.

“Every organization interviewed by OIG had one or more stories to share about long wait times for police response in their communities, or stories of the police never showing up at all,” according to the report.

Some also fear calling 911 can lead to retaliation. In some cases, police officers and other responders told those on scene who had called 911 in the first place, community organizers told the office of the inspector general.

People in communities with high volumes of 911 calls have also noted that police seem to respond faster to calls involving guns, so they are likely to tell dispatchers they saw a gun no matter what, community organizers said.

Though most of OIG’s oversight has to do with police, emergency response concerns have cascading impacts throughout the city government, Witzburg said at Friday’s meeting.

“We recognize that the problems with public safety are not siloed within our Police Department, but rather whole government problems require whole government solutions,” Witzburg said.

Witzburg and Richardson did not expand Friday on the office’s 911 call findings, instead fielding concerns from aldermen about oversight of police disciplinary hearings.

In 2022, the office reviewed 1,095 closed disciplinary investigations overseen by internal affairs or by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. They recommended that internal affairs reopen 10 cases and COPA reopen seven.

One case internal affairs reopened after oversight involved a CPD officer who failed to report a battery and was found to be associated with white nationalist group, the Proud Boys. Another case involved a CPD officer who admitted being involved with the Oath Keepers, a far-right militant group, for “three or four years” starting around 2010.

Afternoon Briefing


Chicago Tribune editors’ top story picks, delivered to your inbox each afternoon.

The group also asked COPA to reopen a case involving an officer ” who punched an individual around his face while the individual was handcuffed.” COPA declined.

At Friday’s meeting, Ald. Jeannette Taylor, 20th, criticized the inspector general’s office for creating additional expenses — of time and money — by reopening multiple disciplinary cases.

The city spent over $250 million on judgments and settlements between 2017 and 2021.

“It doesn’t seem clear to the officer, nor the victim that it’s taking that long to investigate some of these claims,” Taylor said.

Witzburg defended the OIG’s oversight, calling it “an expenditure, not an investment.”

“Historically, OIG investigations have taken longer than they should,” she said, but “The connection between investigations and lawsuits is a critical one.”


Source link