Chicago names new police oversight chief
Laura Kunard's role is to audit the new police accountability system and identify patterns and practices that violate constitutional rights
By Hal Dardick
CHICAGO — A criminologist who once headed up a Chicago nonprofit group focused on public safety and social justice has been appointed to a post from which she would audit the city's efforts to reform the Police Department.
City Inspector General Joseph Ferguson on Thursday named Laura Kunard, a senior research scientist with CNA Corp., to the new job of deputy city inspector general for public safety. Her appointment will be considered Monday by aldermen during a joint meeting of the City Council's Public Safety and Budget committees.
"Laura Kunard has spent her career working around the country on the implementation of reforms to professionalize policing and rebuild trust between communities and police," Ferguson said in a statement. "With Dr. Kunard at the helm and through accountability and transparency, our office will promote best practices in the Chicago Police Department to foster the professionalism and trust needed to create productive partnerships with the communities it serves."
The deputy IG post was created last year by the council as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's effort to enact changes to oversight of the Police Department after the November 2015 release of a police dashcam video showing a white police officer shooting black teen Laquan McDonald 16 times.
As part of those reforms, the council voted to disband the discredited Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates alleged cases of police abuse, and replace it with a more empowered Civilian Office of Police Accountability — a change that has yet to be fully implemented. Aldermen also created the new post to which Kunard was appointed.
The new deputy inspector general's role is to audit the new police accountability system and identify patterns and practices that violate constitutional rights.
An attempt to contact her was not successful.
Lori Lightfoot, who headed up a Police Department reform task force set up by the mayor, said the new role will be even more important now that chances appear remote that the U.S. Department of Justice under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions will move to obtain a court-ordered consent decree to enforce reforms of the Chicago Police Department.
Lightfoot said she does not know Kunard, but added: "We need a strong and robust oversight function, which includes transparency, which is essential to helping educate the public and restoring faith in the Police Department. We should all welcome this important development, and I look forward to getting to know Ms. Kunard."
At CNA, a nonprofit research group, Kunard works on a variety of Department of Justice initiatives focused on law enforcement research, training and technical assistance as part of the corporation's safety and security division. She also is part of a team set up to monitor a federal court consent decree to reform the Albuquerque Police Department in New Mexico and is a board member of the Illinois Department of Corrections Adult Advisory Board.
Before that, she was the director of the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs Center for Public Safety and Justice and earlier the founding director of the Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice at the Chicago-based Adler School of Professional Psychology. At Adler, she focused on police interactions with people who have mental illnesses as well as restorative justice. She took that job after serving as associate director of the Center for Research in Law and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
She's also a past board member of the John Howard Association prison watchdog group and the onetime vice president of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. She holds a doctorate in criminology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, a master's in criminal justice from the same school and a bachelor's in psychology and sociology from Northwestern University.
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