Transparency and Accountability of the CPD: 1980-2021

This brief covers public data found by past Chicago Justice Project (CJP) interns to understand the extent of the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) accountability and transparency. After a deep synthesis and analysis of the CPD accountability data and surrounding reports from 1980 to 2021, three things became apparent: 1.) a lot of historical data is missing, 2.) of the data that is available, the effectiveness of the accountability organizations is not promising, and 3.) the bigger picture is not apparent in the data available.  

  1. Missing Historical Data: After carefully sifting through the available data that past interns documented dating back all the way to the 1960s, many gaps existed. Before the mandate of the public release of police accountability records, it became clear that not all data from the past was made public, even to this day.  
  2. Ineffectiveness: Of the data that was available, the numbers were not promising. Sustained case rates were and still are extremely low for reasons outside of cases being proven not sustainable. This finding is supported by countless reports from outside organizations that have proven many reasons for the ineffectiveness of the CPD accountability system. 
  3. The Bigger Picture: The numbers generated from this report still do not portray the whole picture. According to reports by the Deputy Public Safety Inspector General, data about processes after a disciplinary recommendation is given by the Police Board and/or Superintendent that affect the disciplinary outcome is not disclosed in the current reports.


The CPD accountability system has gone through numerous changes throughout history following failures in its efficacy. The following will outline a brief overview of the evolution of the accountability system from 1980 all the way to the present day. 

IAD/BIA: The Internal Affairs Division (IAD)/Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA) are synonymous organizations. The change from IAD to BIA was simply a name change made in 2012. The BIA is the organization in place today that handles complaints and allegations against CPD officers that directly affect the police department itself, for example, drug use, procedural violations, theft, etc. Cases that directly involve civilians were sent to the OPS/IPRA and are currently sent to COPA.  

OPS: The first police accountability system to exist (following the Chicago Police Board) was the Office of Professional Standards (OPS) created in 1974. The OPS was an internal organization within the CPD that handled allegations and complaints against the CPD officers including shootings by police, deaths in custody, excessive force complaints, and domestic disputes involving CPD officers. The organization, however, did a terrible job in investigating these allegations, leaving most of them unsolved and not holding officers accountable for their actions. The failure of the organization was mainly thought to be the result of its internal structure to the CPD, then leading to the creation of the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) to replace the OPS. 

IPRA: In 2007, the Independent Police Review Authority served as the replacement to OPS becoming independent of the CPD; they served the city as a whole, not just the police department. IPRA handled cases similar to the OPS in investigating allegations involving police misconduct. Allegations and complaints involving actions that directly affected the civilians of Chicago such as domestic violence, excessive/deadly force, etc. were taken in and investigated by IPRA.

However, according to Sharon Fairley, the former Chief Administrator of IPRA, the transition from OPS to IPRA never fully achieved the positive changes in oversight the community hoped for. In an interview with Fairley, who spearheaded the organizational transition from IPRA to COPA, she stated that IPRA never became the truly new and improved independent investigative body it was intended to be. In creating IPRA, the city merely moved OPS employees into a new office and placed a new name on the door.  Nothing else about the way the agency operated changed in a substantive way. Because IPRA never really fulfilled the mission it was given — to conduct truly independent, thorough, and timely investigations — the community lost confidence in the agency, and another transition was required. 

COPA: Following new legislation which passed in 2016, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) took the place of IPRA in 2017. This organization does the same job as the IPRA on paper, however, has a few key changes including a larger budget, a widened jurisdiction into civil rights related allegations, and an emphasis on transparency and independence. One of the most important differences, however, between the transition from IPRA to COPA as compared to the transition from OPS to IPRA was the upgrade in investigative personnel. Fairley noted that rather than merely transferring the existing IPRA personnel to COPA, COPA investigators were selected based on a rigorous hiring process from a candidate pool of almost a thousand applicants that included IPRA employees as well as investigators from all over the country. This is the system that is in place today to handle civilian complaint investigations. However, as I will discuss below, COPA still has a number of failures leading to an extremely low sustained case rate for complaint cases. 

Chicago Police Board: The Chicago Police Board (starting in 1960, with the current system in place starting in 2011) is an independent organization that consists of outside civilians rather than those employed by the CPD. The nine civilian members of the board are appointed by the mayor with help from the City Council. They are responsible for deciding disciplinary cases for both sworn officer and civilian employee cases following a sustained complaint/allegation by the IPRA/BIA.  

Both the Chicago Police Board and the Superintendent are involved in the decision-making process for the disciplinary outcome of each case. Officers can appeal disciplinary decisions made which in some cases leads to the minimizing or complete eradication of the disciplinary sentence.   

For a complete detailing of the police accountability system in Chicago, view flow charts created by the Office of the Inspector General. 


*Sources: City of Chicago Police Discipline Database, CPD DatabaseCOPA DatabaseCOPA PublicationsCPD Reports

Although there is plenty of missing data dating back from before the 21st century, there exists current data following the mandate of public accountability reports that tell a story of its own.  

Missing Data: After a careful sift-through of available data dating back to 1980, there were multiple gaps within each organization. The following list outlines the years containing missing data for each organization (either partial or in full): 

OPS: 1975-2006 

IPRA: 2007-2009, 2015-2017 

COPA: 2018 

IAD: 2008-2011 

BIA: 2019-2021 (no data on sustained cases) 

As further discussed later in this brief, there exists no public data on the grievance procedure, meaning there is no real data on how many cases truly end in disciplinary action even with a sustained allegation. 

The data that was available to analyze in full namely was the data pertaining to the rate at which complaints were deemed sustained (proven to be true) and then moved to the disciplinary phase. These are not all-encompassing statistics, however, given they are missing years of data that would have affected these numbers, as well as the fact that sustained case rates are only one piece of the larger puzzle at hand. In order to fully understand Chicago’s police accountability efficacy, the final disciplinary action data is needed. However, the pieces of sustained case data alone still tell a convincing story. Below are sustained case rates (out of all complaints filed) sorted by organization taken from years with complete available data: 

OPS (1975-1990): 5.93% 

IPRA (2008-2017): 1.36%

COPA (2015-2019): 7.10% 

IAD (1998-2007): 15.62% 

BIA: no complete sustained case data 

Case Management System (CMS) (2020-Present): 2.53% –> The Case Management System was put in place in 2020 after the Consent Decree was put into action in the city. This system tracks the data under BIA and COPA and is published on the CPD website


Of the cases that are sustained, they are sent to the Chicago Police Board for review. Below is the Chicago Police Board data compiled from the City of Chicago Police Discipline Database from 2010-2020:

Throughout all organizations, dating back all the way to 1975, sustained case rates are noticeably low. What is most compelling, however, is that the most recent data from CMS represents one of the lowest sustained case rates of all rates calculated at only 2.53%. This means that for every 100 complaints that are filed, either the BIA or COPA are only investigating and sustaining about 3 of them. In addition, of all the sustained cases brought to the Police Board for disciplinary review, nearly 50% of them did not end up in discipline. However, it is important to note that varied reasons could be causing the low number of sustained cases and the large percentage of sustained cases going undisciplined; investigations could be proving complaints not to be sustained, and the Chicago Police Board could be finding valid reasons to not discipline the accused. Yet, after reading into various reports on Chicago’s police accountability system, reasons involving the effectiveness of these organizations must be considered as variables. 



I am not the first to create a public report regarding the level of efficacy of the CPD accountability system. Write-ups from the DOJ, OIG, Internal Monitoring, and more report sustainable findings of the inefficacy of the current police accountability system in place in Chicago. 

Police Accountability Task Force Report (April 2016) 

In 2014, Laquan McDonald was shot and killed wrongfully by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. After a year of the CPD refusing to release the police dashcam footage, a Cook County Judge forced the department to release the video. Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder only to be charged with a sentence where he will only be serving four years. Chicagoans had reached a tipping point; police were not being held accountable for their actions. 

In response to this, a Police Accountability Task Force was made in order to investigate the police accountability system and why it has been failing. They gave the following four reasons as to why the city of Chicago had reached a point where a Task Force was needed to investigate such offenses by the police: 

  1. We arrived at this point in part because of racism. 
  2. We arrived at this point because of a mentality in CPD that the ends justify the means. 
  3. We arrived at this point because of a failure to make accountability a core value and imperative within the CPD. 
  4. We arrived at this point because of significant underinvestment in human capital.

The task force reported alarming findings, namely on the failures of IPRA (the preceding organization to COPA). The most alarming, however, was the following statistic: 40% of complaints filed from 2011-2015 were not investigated by either the BIA or IPRA. Only 7% of cases were investigated and found to be sustained. In addition, arbitrators reduced or eliminated discipline in 73% of cases. Overall, the report revealed the reality that “IPRA [was] badly broken.” Many cases are not investigated, and the public has no trust in the organization’s ability to do its job. The report states that: 

“Up until recently, the agency has been run by former law enforcement, who allowed leadership to reverse findings without creating any record of the changes. IPRA has lost the trust of the community, which it cannot function without.” 

Even the investigations that were made, namely in response to CPD shootings, “have been repeatedly called into question.” According to the report, of the 404 shootings by police officers from 2008-2015, 74% of the victims, a total of 49,299 people, were black. This number is nearly matched to what the Metcalfe panel found in the 1970s: 75% of the victims of the CPD killings were black. IPRA investigated all of these shootings and concluded after investigating that nearly all of them were justified shootings. The justifications found for these shootings have been seriously questioned. 

On top of this, in an interview with Mark Iris, former Executive Director of the Chicago Police Board, he emphasized the longstanding weak standard relative to officer truthfulness. In very few discharge cases throughout the years, he mentioned, was lying made the primary allegation against an officer. Over time, the practice of not charging for lying had sent the unspoken message that lying was tolerated. This has been extremely corrosive to the integrity of the CPD.    

Overall, this report revealed the longstanding failures of the accountability system which have instilled the public’s rooted mistrust in the Chicago Police Department. 

Department of Justice: Investigation of the Chicago Police Department (2017)

Following the Police Accountability Task Force Report, the Department of Justice conducted an investigation of their own into the city’s police accountability system. Their report revealed the following: 

  1. CPD engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional use of force 
  2. Chicago’s deficient accountability systems contribute to CPD’s pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct 
  3. CPD does not provide officers with sufficient direction, supervision, or support to ensure lawful and effective policing 
  4. CPD must better support and incentivize policing that is lawful and restores trust among Chicago’s marginalized communities 

The DOJ in their research during their five-year period of investigation revealed that not only was the CPD guilty of excessive use of force violations, the systems in place to hold these actions accountable were not doing their jobs. Of the 409 shootings that were investigated by Chicago, only two were found unjustified. In addition, instead of investigating cases, the city of Chicago paid over 500 million dollars to settle cases in police misconduct since 2004. Nearly half of police conduct complaints went uninvestigated. Of the cases that were investigated, less than 4% involved disciplinary recommendations. DOJ’s investigation revealed, “egregious investigative deficiencies” such as the lack of interviews conducted on witnesses and accused officers as well as biased questioning for interviews that are conducted. The DOJ said the following of these findings: 

“Our comprehensive investigation of Chicago’s accountability structures and systems found clear indications…that those structures and systems are broken.”

On top of this, the report found that officers are often not disciplined proportionately to their misconduct, even when the complaint is sustained. In some cases, officers with sustained allegations are not disciplined at all. This is due to the finding that “the police discipline system, including the City’s draft disciplinary matrix, fails to provide clear guidance on appropriate, fair, and consistent penalty ranges, thus undermining the legitimacy and deterrent effect of discipline within CPD. And the City’s process for finalizing IPRA’s and BIA’s discipline recommendations further delays and inappropriately influences discipline, and compromises the ability for such discipline to withstand appeal.”  

The report additionally touches on the evaluation that the transition from IPRA to COPA may not be enough to tackle the issues present in the police accountability system. COPA’s main reforms include the following: (1) expanded investigative authority, (2) a guaranteed budget floor, (3) authority to hire independent counsel, (4) a five-year ban on former police officers serving as investigators, and (5) a modified mediation program. NONE of these reforms directly address the investigative issues discussed in the report. If the investigative issues are not solved, then the issue could only spread with COPA’s expanded investigative authority.  

The Department of Justice, following a thorough investigation and analysis, concluded that there are multiple issues within the CPD accountability system that have caused lapses in the police department’s true transparency and honorability.

Consent Decree (2019)

An agreement between the city and the CPD was drafted, finalized, and signed by both parties listing 315 paragraphs aimed to improve the Chicago Police Department as a whole, including its accountability apparatuses following the release of the DOJ report on top of a longstanding public distrust in the CPD. The first draft of the document was released on July 27th, 2018. Following was its final approval on January 31st, 2019, and placement into effect on March 1st, 2019.

Notable paragraphs aiming to improve the CPD accountability system, emphasizing the importance of integrity, effectiveness, and transparency, are as follows:

  1. A robust and well-functioning accountability system in which CPD members are held to the highest standards of integrity is critical to CPD’s legitimacy and is a priority of CPD. A culture of accountability also promotes employee safety and morale, and improves the effectiveness of CPD operations. Organizational justice also plays an important role in ensuring that CPD members have confidence in the legitimacy of the system that holds them accountable
  2. The City, CPD, and COPA will ensure that all complaints of misconduct, whether from internal or external sources, are thoroughly, fairly, timely, and efficiently investigated in accordance with this Agreement; that all investigative findings are supported by the appropriate standard of proof and documents in writing; and that all CPD members who commit misconduct are held accountable pursuant to a disciplinary system that is fair, timely and consistent, and provides due process
  3. When members of the public submit complaints to the City (“complaints”), those complaints must be courteously received, properly classified, and efficiently investigated. Throughout a non-criminal investigation of the actions of a member (an “administrative investigation”), complaints should be able to track the status of their complaints and receive current, accurate information
  4. The City and CPD will undertake best efforts to ensure that the absence of a signed complaints affidavit will not preclude an administrative investigation
  5. Data can empower CPD to engage in the type of critical self-examination essential to instilling and maintaining constitutional policing. CPD can leverage data to ensure constitutional policing: systematically collecting enough data to have a broad-based understanding of officers’ interactions with the public; auditing the data to ensure it accurately reflects those interactions; analyzing the data to identify trends or areas of concern; developing tailored support and interventions to address behavior that is or may become problematic; and assessing the effectiveness of attempts to modify officers’ behavior
  6. In addition to enhancing CPD’s capacity for internal accountability, CPD can use data to promote accountability to the public by regularly publishing data it collects
  7. CPD will collect and maintain the data and records necessary to accurately evaluate its use of force practices and to facilitate transparency and accountability regarding those practices

After several reports made by Independent Monitoring, nearly none of the above paragraphs have reached full compliance.

Independent Monitoring Report 3 (2020)

Following the implication of the Consent Decree, an Independent Monitoring team was tasked with reviewing the CPD’s compliance with each paragraph. It was found that by the end of the third reporting period, only 1 paragraph was in full compliance. The number breakdown of compliance is as follows:

Graphic taken from the Independent Monitoring Report 3

Although this is an extremely low percentage of full compliance (0.32%), it was emphasized in the monitoring report that this kind of change takes time. It has taken many police departments around the country 10 years or more to reach full compliance in this area. Given that this report was released only a year after the Consent Decree was placed into full effect, a low full compliance rate is not completely out of the ordinary.

Yet, after interviews with experts in the field, it became clear that there may be more underlying issues that have caused the slow pace in the implementation of the Consent Decree agreements. According to Desmon Yancy of the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA), systematic issues have existed for decades; the reason that the CPD is implementing change at such a slow rate is either because the department is unwilling to change on its own or unable to change on its own. Deborah Witzburg of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) stated on the subject that the reform apparatus itself in the CPD is inadequately resourced and is the first subject in question when looking at slow rates of implementation.

Deputy Public Safety Inspector General Reports

Advisory Concerning COPA’s Duty to Report (September 2020):

On July 17th, 2020, a letter was written by the Inspector General to the Chief Administrator of COPA, Sydney Roberts, to inform her of the office’s findings concerning COPA’s duty to report findings during investigations.  It was found that “On two separate occasions, in statements given in unrelated disciplinary investigations, two different COPA investigators professed either uncertainty about whether they are obligated to report misconduct by Chicago Police Department (CPD) members, or the belief that they are not obligated to do so.” It is stated specifically in section 1.5 of COPA’s Rules and Regulations that COPA employees must follow the rules of conduct as outlined by the City of Chicago’s Personnel Rules, one of which prohibits the failure to report misconduct by City employees. More than one COPA investigator has expressed confusion as to whether or not this rule applies to them; this provides evidence towards reasonable doubt that COPA investigators are effectively doing their jobs. The failure to report misconduct is an extremely probable cause for an investigation to be closed prematurely.

Evaluation of the Affidavit Override (December 2020):

For a complaint to be fully investigated and found sustained by either COPA or the BIA, there must exist a requirement that there be a signed affidavit from the person who submitted the complaint. However, both investigative organizations can override this requirement given enough evidence exists for the case. This piece of the investigative process is argued to have a large effect on low sustained case rates and the efficacy of the police accountability system in general. The affidavit override process was evaluated by the Deputy Public Safety Inspector General. The report following this investigation revealed the following main findings:

  1. The majority of finalized disciplinary investigations were closed for lacking an affidavit
  2. Investigating agencies did not pursue overrides and improperly closed investigations for lacking an affidavit
  3. Investigating agencies often closed investigations associated with a civil lawsuit for lacking an affidavit, risking outcomes in which the city bears financial costs for conduct which has never been meaningfully investigated for disciplinary purposes
  4. Investigations completed on the basis of an affidavit override result in sustained allegations at a higher rate than investigations completed via a signed affidavit or an exemption from the affidavit requirement

These findings were supported by numerous experts in the field. According to Fairley, IPRA and its replacement COPA were not taking advantage of the affidavit override provision as much as they could have. Historically, this method of circumventing the affidavit requirement to allow for the investigation of complaints deemed reliable but for which a complainant was hesitant to sign an affidavit, was largely underutilized. The same was said by Deborah Witzburg of the OIG. In addition, Desmon Yancy of GAPA stated of the affidavit requirement that to require an affidavit for an investigation is an unnecessary burden on the public, especially when there already exists a public mistrust of the CPD; it complicates an issue that does not need to be further complicated, especially since a false allegation would be uncovered by the investigation itself.

Review of the Disciplinary Grievance Procedure for Chicago Police Department Members (May 2021):

Following a sustained allegation and a disciplinary recommendation, the officer being charged can grieve their sentence, meaning, they are able to fight the disciplinary charges that they have been sentenced to following the investigation which confirmed their misconduct. In many cases, this process has resulted in the reducing or completed dismissal of all disciplinary charges for officers who have received sustained allegations of misconduct. An investigation and report on this matter by the Deputy Public Safety Inspector General dug deeper into this process of the police accountability system. In their investigation of disciplinary grievance data from recent years, they determined the following statistics:

Graphic taken from the Disciplinary Grievance Procedure Report

Overall, the disciplinary grievance procedure provides a loophole to those who have proven misconduct allegations facing discipline. Over three quarters of grievance cases result in the reduction or elimination of discipline. In many cases, settlements are involved in these grievance procedures, sometimes resulting in the expulsion of any rule violation from the accused officers’ records. The report also emphasizes the lack of transparency of the grievance process as a whole; this includes the arbitrators, the process itself, and the data associated with its outcomes. In fact, no data on the grievance process and the disciplinary outcomes after the fact are shared with the public. This means that the data currently being shared with the public by the CPD on their police accountability system is skewed; disciplinary outcome data are not 100% accurate because it does not include the effects of the grievance process. The Deputy Public Safety Inspector General emphasized the lapses present in police accountability data that is currently shared with the public:

“…because such a substantial proportion of Sustained cases go through a grievance procedure before the discipline is finalized, and because a substantial proportion of those result in the complete elimination of discipline…, data on the volume of Sustained cases is not a good indicator of how many sworn officers are actually being disciplined for misconduct. Grievance procedure data is critical to a full public understanding of CPD’s disciplinary system, and it is not currently available.”

There is a huge piece of the puzzle missing when it comes to a full understanding of the true efficacy of CPD accountability system. Deborah Witzburg states on this matter that “a large chunk of cases get resolved in a windowless room.” Without data and full transparency from the final step in the full disciplinary process, there is no way of knowing if there is true and honest accountability within Chicago’s police force.


Where do we begin to tackle the task of creating a reliable police accountability system? What does this mean and how can we achieve it? Responsibility. Transparency. Community involvement.

The following will lay out the main findings of this brief, listing the main causes of ineffectiveness within the CPD accountability system:

  • Low sustained case rates due to:
    • Lack of proper investigation
    • Lack of resources
  • Lack of disciplinary outcomes

The data we have is not enough to understand the full picture. Data involving the grievance procedure is still not being shared. Due to the proportion of cases that end in disciplinary sentences being reduced as a result of this process, the true efficacy of the CPD accountability systems remains hazy. This is the main reason why the public remains wary of their trust in the CPD; they are not telling their full truth. “The city is in operation at an enormous transparency debt,” said Deborah Witzburg. “When there comes the opportunity, the city must bring some sunlight into this process.” Anna Mangahas, former head of Police Accountability at ONE Northside, added to this notion: “Transparency and community engagement are vital… there is no police accountability without buy-in from the community and transparency.” Furthermore, public trust has been further tainted by the lack of opportunity for community members to get involved. In order to make strides towards a more accountable police department, the CPD must earn the trust of their community through transparency and responsibility in their actions, as well as creating more opportunities for the public to become meaningfully involved.

Katherine Large is a third-year at the University of Chicago studying Political Science with a minor in Inequality, Social Problems, and Change. She is an aspiring consultant and lawyer aiming to work in areas of civil service.

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