The Sun-Times reports that up to 1,000 Chicago Police Department officers may have failed to file annual ethics statements that were due on June 1.
A CPD spokesperson did not tell the Sun-Times how many officers failed to file reports, but did note that the officers failed to file reports after they were “notified of the requirement to file electronically.” Previously, officers could file by mail.
Normally, I would snicker at the thought of an ethics scandal anywhere in Chicago government. However, the Sun-Times story reads like a blunder of inept middle management or a reckless violation by hundreds of officers, so room for slack exists.
Which is more concerning, rule-breaking cops or idiots in middle management?
This may seem like a small rule to break, but slipshod filing of ethics statements could cast aspersions on all police paperwork. Who knows what kind rampant forgery of reports and documents could be going on? I do not wish to attack the CPD, but as a citizen, I have a right to be fearful when the police cannot or will not follow rules, and by extension, the law.
At the same time, one must consider that this appears to be the first year officers had to file electronically. Bumps in the road occur when systems and rules change. Some folks may try to take advantage of such a situation, but I doubt the number would be very high for a changeover such as this. Filing electronically would make it more likely that late filers would be caught.
On the other hand, the late filing may expose officers who neglected filing ethics statements on time for years. With electronic filing, those statement-skippers may have had their act put out into the open for management to see. Of course, if this scenario is true then management was either incompetent for years in missing reports that were not filed on time or complicit in ignoring rules.
The legal counsel of Chicago’s Board of Ethics wrote the Sun-Times saying, “Whether there’s one or a million [violations], there can be no violation until and unless the board finds a violation. That’s Step One. Step Two is that we will communicate that to the department, and the department determines what, if anything, they want to do.”
Here, the assortment of problems is open to more possibilities. Who was inept, the Board of Ethics or the police department? Who may be corrupt, the Board of Ethics or the police? Now, I have to snicker. Either gross incompetence or mismanagement occurred or a scandal larger in human number than the firefighter mileage one may be taking place.
By this point, the Sun-Times story starts to give off the smell of scandal over the smell of incompetence. If there is some sort of rule-ignoring corruption, the Chicago Police may have to punish up to one thousand officers at a time when the department is suffering a work force shortage of over two thousand officers. In this scenario, Chicago’s situation is difficult. The city could attempt to punish officers, which may take months and hundreds of thousands of dollars, or it could sweep the violations under the rug and forget about them. One solution uses up valuable taxpayer dollars and city employee time while the other continues a culture of taint and incompetence or corruption.
Whether these officers are in trouble because of gross incompetence by management, hiccups in the wake of a rule change (filing electronically versus filing by mail), or outright corruption, Chicago government and its reputation are the ultimate loser. Although, I am not sure the reputation of Chicago government has anything to lose. In fact, save for lateral moves, it has nowhere to go but up.