by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) — The city’s top watchdog on Wednesday recommended sweeping changes to the Chicago Police Department’s records management system in criminal and civil cases, after an investigation determined CPD can’t effectively determine what records it even has, much less guarantee it is meeting legal and constitutional obligations to produce documents when required.

The report from Inspector General Joseph Ferguson’s office found judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and civil rights attorneys have found CPD’s records management system to be ineffective, resulting in serious lags in obtaining relevant documents in criminal and civil cases involving the department.

Those requesting records from CPD noted it often takes multiple requests to various units and officers to obtain the proper documents, according to the report.

“Stakeholders expressed frustration with the large variations in time for CPD to produce its records—production for some cases may take a few months while for other cases it may take years—and a lack of confidence in CPD to produce all appropriate records at all,” the report stated.

The IG’s office found the department’s Subpoena Unit and Legal Affairs Office can’t even determine what records exist in a given case, “making it impossible to know whether all relevant documents have been identified and produced.”

“CPD’s failure to identify and produce all records in its possession has put due process and the fairness of criminal and civil litigation at stake, with enormous potential consequences for individual litigants and their liberty interests,” said Acting Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety Deborah Witzburg. “CPD has identified areas for immediate attention, and while we recognize that these challenges are complex and monumental, we still urge the Department to fully commit to improving mechanisms for identifying and producing records in its possession. Doing so is critical to improving public trust and confidence in the competent and transparent operation of the Department.”

According to the report, a review of the Subpoena Unit’s database last summer found 74% of the more than 15,000 subpoenas tracked between June and August were not forwarded to other CPD units to locate the necessary records.

“CPD also lacks appropriate review processes to ensure that materials are properly produced, which risks the disclosure of materials that may raise privacy and public safety concerns,” the report stated.

The report recommended CPD create a single unit to oversee records management for the entire department, tasked with establishing guidelines for how officers should maintain and file records to ensure consistent procedures.

The inspector general’s office also recommended CPD establish consistent procedures to identify and produce both paper and electronic records, and establish a comprehensive records tracking system.

CPD spokeswoman Kellie Bartoli said the department began taking steps to modernize its records management system even before the IG’s office began its audit.

“To further ensure record-keeping standardization across the department, CPD has adopted an electronic document tracking system for all criminal cases, created an overarching database search tool to ensure complete records production of officer disciplinary history, provided training to attorneys and administrative staff on proper protocols to meet the Department’s constitutional and legal obligations, and implemented a transformational reorganization to streamline operations and coordination between bureaus, sections and units,” Bartoli wrote in an email. “While the Department has either completed or taken substantial steps to address these recommendations, we know there remains more work to be done. That is why CPD is currently working to establish a Department-wide ​protocol for records production and management, ​as well as unit-specific standard operating procedures and will take the recommendations made by the OIG to build on those ongoing comprehensive reform efforts.”

According to the inspector general’s office, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has created an “external working group” of CPD representatives, city attorneys, Cook County prosecutors, and others to make sure the concerns raised in the report are addressed.