A civilian-led police oversight panel voted unanimously Monday to approve a new policy that would ban Chicago cops from “active participation” in hate and extremist groups.
The move came after the Chicago Police Department investigated — but took little or no action — against members of the force who were found to have connections to extremist and anti-government groups, including the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Three Percenters.
The Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability also announced Monday that the city’s Office of the Inspector General had reacted positively to its request to “investigate recent allegations of officer involvement with extremists or hate-based organizations.”
The panel’s outreach to Inspector General Deborah Witzburg emerged last month in direct response to a recent investigation by WBEZ, the Sun-Times and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project that found dozens of current and former Chicago cops were among the Illinois law enforcement officials who once joined the Oath Keepers.
The newly approved policy is intended to spell out in the greatest detail yet what groups cops should not join if they want to avoid discipline.
“Given the seriousness and urgency of this issue, we feel it’s important we vote on this policy today,” Commissioner Remel Terry said. “We will continue our work to ensure that the Chicago Police Department effectively implements this policy, monitors the implementation and provides regular reporting on the outcome.”
The policy expands on an existing departmental order barring officers from joining “criminal organizations” by prohibiting cops from participating in organizations that use force to deny others’ rights, achieve ideological goals or advocate for “systemic illegal prejudice, oppression, or discrimination.”
Perhaps most notably, the policy prohibits membership in groups that “seek to overthrow, destroy, or alter the form of government of the United States by constitutional means.”
The banned organizations would be identified by the police department’s counterterrorism bureau, but the list would be kept from the public.
The CCPSA has been working with the police department on the new policy for 10 months. Before Monday’s vote, CCPSA President Anthony Driver noted that the department will have 60 days to respond to the change, and Mayor Brandon Johnson has the power to veto the policy. Johnson campaigned earlier this year on the promise of terminating any Oath Keepers and Proud Boys at the CPD.
The “Extremism in the Ranks” series on WBEZ and in the Sun-Times linked 27 current and former Chicago cops to the anti-government Oath Keepers, including nine officers who remain on active duty. It also showed that a prior police investigation of cops associated with the Oath Keepers did not include all the officers alleged to be involved.
Witzburg has slammed the police department’s investigations into officers linked to the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Three Percenters, pushing the department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs to reopen three separate cases.
And Witzburg also has argued that existing rules already would allow Johnson to follow through on his campaign promise. She pointed to longstanding, broad rules that prohibit cops from discrediting the department and undermining its goals.
The police department is conducting its own internal investigation into officers tied to the Oath Keepers, which Bureau of Internal Affairs Chief Yolanda Talley recently said would be finished “in less than six months.” Johnson’s handpicked new police superintendent, Larry Snelling, also assured City Council members there would be “stringent” efforts to root out extremists and “remove those members from our ranks.”
But similar, previous efforts within CPD have faltered, records show.
An investigation was launched after National Public Radio reported in November 2021 that a group of Chicago cops was found on a leaked membership roster for the Oath Keepers, a far-right group at the center of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Yet internal investigators didn’t obtain that list, and a stark warning from the Anti-Defamation League was apparently overlooked. As the investigation was playing out, in August 2022, the ADL wrote an email to the police department’s second-ranking official and provided the names of as many as eight Chicago police officers on the leaked rolls.
But the probe — which targeted just three officers — wasn’t expanded, and it was closed without discipline against anybody.
Internal Affairs also has come under heavy fire for its handling of Officer Robert Bakker, who lied to investigators about his close ties to the neofascist Proud Boys, another group involved in the Capitol riot. He ultimately entered into a mediation agreement and was suspended for 120 days, drawing criticism from alderpersons and activists who called for his dismissal.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Tom Schuba covers Chicago police for the Sun-Times.