Chicago police oversight panel asks watchdog to investigate CPD's ties to extremist groups

In an effort to bolster public confidence in police, an oversight panel on Thursday advised the city inspector general to investigate the Chicago Police Department’s ties to extremist groups.

Citing "painful details" of a series by WBEZ, the Sun-Times and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Yvette Loizon, a commissioner on the police oversight panel, said a new external investigation is needed to ensure any ties to hate groups are "rooted out" of the police department.

The series linked 27 Chicago police officers to the anti-government Oath Keepers, nine of whom remain on active duty. The Oath Keepers is one of the country’s largest far-right militias and was a central organizer of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

The Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability — a seven-member, civilian-led panel — unanimously recommended during its monthly meeting Thursday that the city’s Office of Inspector General investigate officer involvement with extremist or hate-based organizations.

"Community members deserve the comfort of knowing that this investigation was done by a neutral party," Loizon said, while insisting she was not trying to undermine the police department’s ability or effectiveness to investigate itself.

Thursday’s vote was largely symbolic because as Inspector General Deborah Witzburg noted earlier this week, her office has already "been working on this issue from a case-specific perspective for a long time now." Witzburg has said she would welcome a CCPSA recommendation.

But Loizon noted the recommended probe would be a broader investigation into the police department rather than a case-by-case one like Witzburg said her office has been conducting.

Specifically, Thursday’s resolution recommends the inspector general’s office audit the police department’s "processes and practices for identifying and disciplining officers who associate with extremist or bias-based organizations."

It also calls on Witzburg’s office to assess "whether those processes and practices have been effective, and recommend what actions must be taken to ensure that police officers who associate with extremist or bias-based organizations are removed from the Chicago Police Department."

The police department is conducting its own internal investigation into officers tied to the Oath Keepers, which Bureau of Internal Affairs Chief Yolanda Talley said will be finished "in less than six months."

Previous internal probes have been closed without findings or disciplinary action, including one in which department officials determined that joining the Oath Keepers didn’t constitute a rule violation.

Also this week, Chicago police Supt. Larry Snelling told a City Council committee there would be "thorough investigations" and "stringent" efforts to root out extremism from the department.

The commission is working with the police department to expand a policy that forbids officers from associating with "criminal organizations."

A draft policy adds "active participation" in "biased" groups, including groups that "seek to overthrow, destroy, or alter the form of government in the United States by unconstitutional means" to the list of prohibitions.

The commission is seeking community feedback on the draft policy, with plans to post an informational webinar to its website Oct. 30 before a vote on the policy at its next meeting Nov. 13.