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Chicago police

Sun-Times file

Chicago police misconduct files will soon be made public. ‘This is a huge step forward for transparency’

The move brings light to a disciplinary process that has long faced criticism for being secretive and overly lenient.

The Chicago Police Department announced Thursday that records of all misconduct investigations will soon be made public, bringing light to a disciplinary process that has long faced criticism for being secretive and overly lenient.

The department and the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability vowed in a statement to work together in the coming weeks to create a policy that allows for the release of disciplinary records maintained by the Bureau of Internal Affairs.

“This is a huge step forward for transparency,” said Anthony Driver Jr., the commission president. “BIA handles some of the most serious cases of alleged police misconduct and for decades, we’ve been in the dark about those cases.”

The city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountably, a civilian-led agency that investigates a wide range of police misconduct, already makes its final reports available through a public portal.

COPA’s jurisdiction centers on police shootings and deaths in custody, as well as allegations of domestic violence, excessive force and sexual misconduct.

BIA’s caseloads includes probes involving allegations of criminal conduct, complaints of civil rights violations and claims made in lawsuits against officers.

The city’s police disciplinary system has historically been mired in controversy and has recently been expanded based on public outcry for more civilian oversight.

Thursday’s vow to bolster transparency was sparked by Police Supt. Larry Snelling’s unusual decision to publicly release a report that cleared eight officers linked to the Oath Keepers, a militia group at the center of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Driver raised the prospect of releasing all BIA reports in a similar manner, and the department and commission began working on a tentative agreement.

Snelling acknowledged that police officials “need to be clear and open when we get it right and when we get it wrong.”

“And when someone makes a complaint about one of our officers, they deserve to know how that case got resolved,” he added. “Transparency benefits everyone and makes us a better department.”

As it stands, CPD doesn’t have the staff to move forward with redacting and posting closing reports that include details about evidence, an overview of BIA’s investigation and a summary of the bureau’s findings and disciplinary recommendations.

“Once these resources are obtained, CPD commits to publicly post these full summary reports,” according to the statement, which doesn’t include a timeline.

For now, the department will allow members of the public to more easily search for less revealing documents on specific misconduct cases, known as administrative summary reports.

Those records can only be found using a case number, but will soon be searchable using an officer’s name and star number.

Driver said making police records more accessible “will allow us to better understand the accountability system and assess how well it is working.”

“This isn’t about being transparent when someone thinks it helps them,” Driver said. “This is about making systemic change to require greater transparency all the time.”

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