A “secretive” appeals process allows Chicago police officers to reduce the punishment for misconduct or to avoid discipline altogether. A special report by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois found that between February 2010 and February 2017 Chicago police officers who appealed their discipline in 314 cases succeeded 85 percent of the time in reducing or avoiding discipline (266 out of 314 cases).
About half of all the 314 cases were resolved by an independent arbitrator; the other half were negotiated by the city and the police union. Negotiations allow the city to avoid the potential costs of arbitration. In arbitration, a process provided in the police union contract, the losing side pays the fees.
The process protects officers with multiple offenses. Fourteen officers during the period studied appealed more than one disciplinary action. Additionally, 19 officers in the period succeeded in having discipline for giving false statements overturned during investigations (a violation Rule 14 of the Chicago Police Department) and also having the case expunged from their personnel files.
The Chicago Police Department has no formal process for tracking discipline appeal cases. The Chicago Tribune and ProPublica reporters had to obtain data on cases from the records of the police department and the police oversight agency.
To keep the data in context, it is important to remember that the 85 percent success rate in mitigating punishment applies only to those officers who chose to appeal. The appeal rate ranges from 13 to 47 percent in any given year. So in at least some years, about half of all disciplinary actions are reduced or voided altogether.