CHICAGO — There was a familiar refrain during last Thursday’s monthly meeting of the Chicago Police Board.
After the roll call, President Ghian Foreman turned the board’s attention to two pending police misconduct cases.
One involved two officers accused of failing to activate their bodyworn cameras as they pursued a stolen vehicle that later crashed into a home on the Far South Side in late 2019. The chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, Andrea Kersten, recommended that both officers be suspended for at least 180 days, with termination from the department also a possibility.
The other case concerned the fatal police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Little Village last year. COPA said the officer who shot the teen should be fired from the CPD for violating departmental rules related to firearm discharges, foot pursuits and officers’ bodyworn cameras.
In both cases, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown disagreed with COPA’s recommendations and called for the officers to face lighter discipline.
And, in both cases, Brown was overruled by a single member of the police board.
“After considering this matter, it is my opinion that the superintendent did not meet the burden of overcoming the chief administrator’s recommendations for discipline,” police board member Mareilé Cusack said last week.
Since becoming CPD superintendent in April 2020, Brown has disagreed with COPA’s findings and recommendations in police misconduct cases at least 45 times, according to a WGN Investigates review of Chicago Police Board records.
A process known as a “request for review” is triggered when the superintendent and COPA reach an impasse as to discipline for a specific officer. Typically, COPA calls for punishment more severe than what the superintendent suggests. A single, randomly selected member of the police board then must decide if the superintendent (through the CPD’s general counsel) met the burden “of overcoming the Chief Administrator’s recommendation for discipline.”
If that board member sides with the superintendent, then the officer will be subject to whatever discipline was recommended by the city’s top cop. Sometimes that means the officer will face no discipline at all.
If the board member finds that the superintendent did not meet the burden, the CPD then adopts COPA’s recommendation and brings administrative charges against the officer, who is then subject to an evidentiary hearing.
In those 45 disagreements between Brown and COPA — the rulings in which were announced between October 2020 and October 2022 — a single member of the police board found that Brown failed to meet the burden 33 times, WGN Investigates found.
By way of comparison, Brown’s predecessor, former CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson, disagreed with COPA’s findings and recommendations in 32 police discipline cases between May 2017 and September 2019, police board records show. In those 32 requests for review, a randomly selected board member found Johnson failed to meet the burden in 18 of those cases.
Speaking at a press conference last month, Brown stressed that he and COPA agree most of the time.
“I don’t think that there’s been a big difference in COPA and my recommendations. I think there’s been some disagreements, but we’ve had many agreements. Many. Much more than we disagree,” Brown said.
“If COPA and I agree, which we do often, then it doesn’t make the news when we agree because it’s not controversial so it’s not going to be newsworthy,” Brown continued. “But we agree much more often than we disagree. I don’t have a concern that the process is not working. I don’t have a concern that COPA is punitive at all. I don’t think so. I think COPA has its role to play.”
Evidentiary hearings — which are overseen by a hearing officer and video-recorded so they may be reviewed by police board members at a later date — typically last one to four days. The hearings feature attorneys for the superintendent — acting as de facto prosecutors — and attorneys for the accused officer arguing the officer’s guilt or innocence, calling witnesses and presenting evidence.
The remaining members of the police board — those not involved in the “request for review” — then go over the proceedings and vote on whether or not the superintendent’s attorneys proved the officer’s guilt of the administrative charges brought against them. If the board finds that superintendent’s attorneys met their burden, they will order discipline on the officer, including possible termination.
A disciplined officer can then appeal their punishment in Cook County Circuit Court.