Chicago IG Raises Concerns About Fire Department Badge Theft

The Chicago Inspector General’s Office has issued a press release and a five-page advisory outlining its multi-year investigation into the mysterious disappearance of several hundred Chicago Fire Department badges. A total of 340 badges had been reported as lost or stolen between January 1, 2015, through June 30, 2020. The reports were made to the Chicago Police Department in accordance with departmental procedures.

The IG advisory claims that the badge-related police reports were most frequently made by retiring members, and suggests members that members reported the badges as lost or stolen in order to keep them as a memento. Quoting from the advisory:

  • In November 2018, OIG received information that in the previous three years, CFD members had reported badges lost more than 300 times.
  • In what was characterized as “an institutionalized accepted practice,” which “frequently occurred when a firefighter [was] reaching retirement.”
  • CFD badges are CFD property.
  • When a member retires or leaves for any other reason, the member must return the badge to CFD.
  • When a badge is lost or stolen, members must immediately notify and submit a form––CFD Form 2/2A––explaining how the loss occurred along with a complete police report.
  • OIG reviewed Chicago Police Department (CPD) reports of CFD badges purportedly lost or stolen from January 1, 2015, through June 30, 2020.
  • Overall, 340 CFD members reported their badges stolen or lost to CPD during this period.
  • Approximately 79.7% of the reports––271 of the total 340––came from retiring CFD members, with 22.6% of all retiring members who reported their badges stolen or missing to CPD doing so within the 6 months prior to their retirement.
  • [Retiring] members who do not relinquish their badge or do not adhere to the procedure to retain the badge [which involves paying the city $225], may be subject to a wage deduction equal to a ten (10) hour suspension and will be subject to CFD-HR classifying the cost of the badge as an unresolved debt to the City, which will be garnished from the member’s last paycheck.
  • This pattern of a large number of badges reported lost or stolen, as CFD members retire, suggests a number of possible causes, including: 1) that CFD members are committing theft of City property (badges), filing false police reports to cover up the theft, and thereby enabling themselves to retain their CFD badges upon retirement (which since 2018 they are able to replace at a cost lower than the cost of purchasing a retirement badge), or 2) that CFD members may be misplacing their badges and not reporting them missing or stolen until it is time to return the badges to CFD at retirement.
  • Both scenarios constitute control and misconduct concerns.
  • Theft of City property and filing false police reports are crimes.
  • Failing to immediately report a missing or stolen CFD badge is a violation of CFD general orders and the City of Chicago Personnel Rules.

The IG advisory makes a number of recommendations to address the missing badge problem. Oddly enough, none of the recommendations was to simply allow retiring members to keep their badges (like most fire departments do). Imagine how much the city could have saved by not wasting IG and PD resources on investigations like this?

Here is a copy of the IG Advisory:

Here is a copy of Chicago Fire’s response:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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