Issue Brief: IPRA Review – More Access Needed

Analysis of IPRA’s first four years of operations uncovers that their rate of sustaining citizen complaints against CPD officers is identical to its predecessor and also hundreds of taser investigations they are required to conduct by city ordinance are not being completed.

We urge the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) to move towards releasing case-level data that can truly be used to inform communities. This public data can be used to significantly increase community understanding and trust in the police oversight system in Chicago. Communities must be empowered with the ability to track a complaint through to a final disposition, something that is currently impossible given the restrictions on data. IPRA’s resources will need to be expanded, as IPRA is currently an underfunded agency whose funding has not kept up with its growing responsibilities. As a condition of expanding IPRA’s resources, mandates for transparency must be attached to any increase.

In 2007, IPRA was created to replace an internal Chicago Police Department office, the Office of Professional Standards (OPS). At the time of its closure, OPS had lost the trust of community members throughout Chicago and IPRA was tasked with rebuilding trust in the civilian oversight of police. IPRA’s many critics accuse the organization of being no different from its predecessor. Here, CJP provides an independent analysis of the available data to determine how distinguishable IPRA’s operations are from those of OPS.


Our data analysis details a nearly identical rate of sustained civilian complaints against officers between IPRA and OPS. If OPS’ rate of sustaining allegations against officers was one of the reasons for the creation of IPRA, we find no statistical evidence that the results of IPRA’s efforts are any different than its predecessor. In chart A, you will find the average sustained rate for both bodies. You will see that IPRA’s rate of sustaining allegations against officers is only 0.28% higher than OPS’s rate.

No Affidavit Cases – See Calculating the Numbers below for information regarding the impact of what are called the no Affidavit Cases on OPS’s & IPRA’s numbers.


The Chicago Police Department greatly expanded the deployment of tasers to include beat officers in 2009. This dramatic increase in the deployment of these weapons not unexpectedly led to a dramatic increase in the use of the weapons (see chart B). The ordinance that created IPRA mandates that IRPA investigate every discharge of a taser. The number of taser discharges quickly outpaced IPRA’s ability to investigate each incident because their resources were not also increased accordingly.

Currently, IPRA only thoroughly investigates discharges if a community member files a complaint, if a community member who was tased sustained injuries beyond the use of the taser, or if a juvenile, senior citizen, or pregnant woman is tased. This translates to hundreds of taser discharges per year that are not thoroughly investigated. This is especially alarming given the July 20, 2012 report by the Chicago Tribune stating the fact that, while taser discharges have greatly increased with the expansion in the deployment of tasers, officer involved shootings have not dropped as expected (see Chart C). Thus, we see that tasers have not replaced the use of deadly force but have instead been used in situations where deadly force would not have been justified.

Dashboard 2

Tracking Complaints and Outcomes for Communities

Currently, tracking complaints from their communities of origin through to the outcome of an investigation is impossible. If a community member witnesses abuse in their community or reads about it in the paper, they are powerless to learn if a complaint was filed, if an investigation was initiated, and what the outcome of any investigation was.

There is little doubt that IPRA is more transparent than OPS. Yet, there is still far too little information being made available to the public. IPRA needs to make strides away from just providing aggregate totals and start providing the substance of complaints and the results of any investigations that stem from the complaints, regardless of the outcome of the investigation.

CJP Recommendations for Actionable Transparency

  1. IPRA should make available online the content of citizen complaints against officers as well as a detailed summary of the results of their investigations. Of course, necessary steps should be taken to secure the privacy of complainants, witnesses, and officers.
  2. Collect detailed data in cases involving the discharge of tasers or firearms and release this data online annually.
  3. Create a unique numbering system for officers to allow them to be tracked over time, specifically the number and types of complaints against them, without identifying the officer.  This will allow the citizens to know how many officers are receiving complaints against them every year and how many officers are continuing to receive complaints.

Web Extra – Understanding IPRA’s Annual Report

ipra table 1What is IPRA really telling us when they list investigations closed in what is labeled as Table 1 of their annual reports? Well, that really isn’t as clear as one might think. It basically consists of any and all investigations they conduct. That makes sense until you start to look deeper and see that it is a lot less clear than transparency advocates would like. Here is what goes in to that number:

CR Investigations

table 3All completed investigations stemming from citizen complaints – these types of investigations are called CR investigations or Complaint Registry Investigations. The results of those investigations are actually listed in table 3 of IPRA’s annual report. One would hope that these are full investigations, which require an in person interview of the offending officer by IPRA investigators. The problem with this assumption is that it is wrong. There are circumstances when IPRA will only require the officer to fill out a form or report, traditionally called a “to-from” report, about the incident. Try as we might, attempts to get a full picture about when these reports are or are not used from IRPA over the last few years have been worthless. The answer we get is, “It depends on the circumstances.” So, maybe a high number of those closed CR investigations include an in person interview of the officer. Maybe they don’t. IPRA is far too restrictive with their data for us to know. I guess we are left with the old Chicago saying, “Trust us.”

Taser investigations

taserAs we have noted, many of these “investigations” are nothing more than reviewing a police report and taser discharge printout. How many you ask? Well, since IPRA has no idea, neither do we. Since IPRA reports little to no data about their taser investigations, we have no idea how many they fully investigate, how often citizens complain, or how many full investigations stem from the tasing of juveniles, senior citizens, or pregnant women.

Now if you want to know if the CPD is not using them disproportionately against people of color, youth, women, or against people that live in certain community areas you are out of luck. When I asked this summer about whether or not IPRA monitors use of taser by unit or police district I was told they do not. They were not really able to give me a reason why they don’t. It might be that they lack the information technology to do that kind of comparison. Considering Chicago’s rich history of abuse and corruption against certain communities, you would think that IPRA would put more effort into making sure that a dangerous weapon like tasers is not being used improperly.

Shooting with Hits, Extraordinary Occurrence, Shooting with No Hits, Destruction of Animal and O/C Spray

For this group of cases, there is very little information made available. We have no idea how many are full investigations or just a review of paperwork. For all these categories, they tell us how many investigations are commenced. Yet, only for shooting with hits and extraordinary occurrences in custody, do they actually tell us how many investigations they closed in the year. The problem is that even this little bit of info is practically worthless. Since IPRA has a backlog of cases, many of those closed investigations could be one or more years, with no way to track how many of the investigations were commenced this year.


So what exactly IPRAs annual report is telling us is anyone’s guess. Of course it is well laid out and it looks like they are reporting a lot of data. The problem is that little to none of the data fits CJP’s definition of actionable, meaning it is in a form that communities can easily understand and act on to engage the system. There is definitely more information in IPRA’s annual report than was included in the CPD’s annual report about OPS’ activities. While this is typical graded as an “A” by Chicago’s government transparency community, we are not so easily fooled. If communities cannot find reliable information about what IPRA really does, than transparency falls short. No matter how much better it is now, it is still horrible. It is so typical for Chicago institutions to provide us just enough info to look good but not enough to actually monitor how they are going about their everyday business. Anything short of real transparency that releases actionable information is an “F” and is unacceptable. IPRA should move immediately to implement our recommendations, instead of trying so hard to impress Chicago’s communities with worthless data. IPRA has the ability to dramatically increase the faith communities have in the accountability system in Chicago but nothing less than real transparency will do. Lesser efforts will continue to make the organization indistinguishable from OPS, as it is now viewed in much of Chicago.

Web Extra: Calculating the numbers

CJP’s analysis is based on publicly available data that has been published in the agency’s annual reports. For numbers related to the OPS, we used data published in the annual reports of the Chicago Police Department. Since OPS was an internal office to the Chicago Police Department it is understandable to find this data reported in this manner. To calculate a rate of sustaining cases we looked at 10 years of OPS numbers. However, In 2004 the Chicago Police Department merge the numbers of OPS and their internal affairs division when reporting in their annual report. So we substituted the year of 1997 for 2004 to compensate.

For IPRA’s data we used their annual reports for 2008-2010. They are a separate city agency so they produced their own annual report. For the year 2011, IPRA has yet to produce an annual report. So we used data gathered from their quarterly reports, which have been made public and are up to date.

In 2006 the Illinois General Assembly passed a law mandating that any citizen that files a complaint against a police officer has to sign a sworn affidavit, which carries a penalty of perjury if the complaint contained false information, in order for an full investigation of that officer to occur. A complaint that is not accompanied by a sworn affidavit can receive only a cursory investigation unless other corroborating evidence is uncovered through the limited investigation. This undoubtedly had an impact on the work of OPS for the last 20 months of their operations. Yet, OPS did not parse out how many cases they had that lacked an affidavit so it is impossible to know the impact. IPRA has always operated under this law and has reported data parsing out the no affidavit cases from the total number of cases they investigate, thus it is possible to judge the impact.

When we detail a sustained rate for OPS, even for the 20 months when the new law was in affect and OPS was active, we do not parse out the no affidavit cases because we cannot reliably determine how many of their cases lacked an affidavit. For IPRA we are able to parse out the no-affidavit cases. Thus, their sustained rate does not include these cases. While this seems a little bit of an uneven analysis, we should be clear that if we were able to parse out the no affidavit cases from OPS’s last 20 months their clearance rate would likely increase, not decrease. If we added IPRA’s no affidavit cases to the analysis their clearance rate would drop. When calculating the sustained rate we believe we have presented the data in the most accurate way possible, which also happens to be the best light for IPRA.


  1. i*For OPS we used the last 10 years of the oversight body’s operations. We were unable to locate OPS specific data for the year 2004 because the CPD reported data for OPS and their internal affairs division in a combined format. We substituted the year 1997 for 2004. For IPRA we took the numbers released by the agency for each of the first four years of operations, 2008-2011.
  2. These numbers were gathered from IPRA’s annual and quarterly reports from 2008-2011.
  3. These numbers were gathered from IPRA’s annual and quarterly reports from 2008-2011.
  4. If a complaint was sustained, IPRA does post rather uninformative summaries of sustained allegations on their website and in their annual report.

Tracy has nearly two decades of experience researching and working within criminal justice systems. When Tracy began pursuing a career dedicate to system reform, he found that no single organization existed to promote evidence-based discussions among law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Recognizing that citizens in Chicago deserved the right to demand transparency in their criminal justice system, Siska established the Chicago Justice Project. He received his Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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