Plan to revamp Chicago police misconduct probes gets review
City Council members said Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to create a new agency that would investigate police shootings and police misconduct lacks necessary transparency and oversight
By Don Babwin
CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to create a new agency that would investigate police shootings and police misconduct allegations drew sharp criticism Tuesday from some City Council members who said the proposed ordinance lacks necessary transparency and oversight over a department long plagued by a reputation of misconduct and brutality.
Emanuel's plan, while addressing some concerns about the independence of the new Civilian Office of Police Accountability, does not create a civilian board whose job would include selecting a permanent head of the agency. That's something critics of the department have said is crucial to restoring public trust in Emanuel's leadership and the police force in the wake of the now-famous video of a white police officer fatally shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald.
Instead, Emanuel postponed plans to create such a board, with the city's lawyer, Stephen Patton telling aldermen on Tuesday that would be ask to approve a resolution on Wednesday that calls for an ordinance on the new board to be completed and go before the City Council early next year. That means IPRA administrator Sharon Fairley would head the new agency on an interim basis.
The mayor's ordinance to create the new agency went before a joint meeting of the council's Committee on Budget and Government Operations and Committee on Public Safety. The recommendation of both committees is expected to go before the full City Council for a final vote on Wednesday.
The ordinance would create a new agency to replace the Independent Police Review Authority, which has been widely criticized for not completing investigations in a timely manner and nearly always siding with officers.
In August, Emanuel released the proposed ordinance but agreed to rewrite portions of it after aldermen balked at the failure to include some key provisions about issues such as the budget of the new agency and who would be allowed to work there. The ordinance, according to published reports, calls for the new agency to receive a guaranteed budget totaling 1 percent of the police department's budget, not including grant funding. That's about $14 million a year, or a little more than $2 million more than IPRA's budget.
During Tuesday's hearing, aldermen, community activists and civil rights lawyers were among those who criticized Emanuel's plan, some saying it would give his office too much power, is not transparent enough and lacks provisions to ensure community involvement. Critics also said the proposed budget for the agency would not adequately provide resources necessary to conduct adequate investigations. They demanded the committees not recommend it to the full council.
Karl Brinson of the NAACP said it's clear that the demands of the public are not being met. University of Chicago Law School professor Craig Futterman said the mayor's office would be too involved with the new agency for the public to trust its findings.
Alderman Leslie Hairston said Emanuel's plan doesn't go far enough and encouraged her fellow aldermen to examine an ordinance she introduced to create a "truly independent police oversight agency."
"It is unfortunate there is only one voice being heard," Hairston said of Emanuel's proposed ordinance, which she belittled as an ordinance with a "catchy name."
"The whole world is watching to see if Chicago is real ready for reform or it is back to business as usual."
Alderman Patrick O'Connor disputed the contention that the new agency won't be independent.
"Essentially you've taken the mayor's office out of the picture almost completely," O'Connor said, adding that the city council's role would be limited to confirming a deputy inspector general.
The new ordinance also will create a new deputy inspector general for public safety, who will monitor the police force, and increases the budget of Inspector General Joe Ferguson's office to pay for it.
Emanuel's new ordinance, proposed after hearing from aldermen and others, also prohibits the new agency from hiring as investigators anyone who has been a Chicago police officer within the last five years — an effort to satisfy reform advocates who worried that people who were recently on the force may not investigate their former co-workers as aggressively as they should.
Brenda Sheriff, of the NAACP Chicago Southside branch, remained unconvinced at Tuesday's hearing, saying the proposed ordinance is evidence that Emanuel doesn't truly care about poor communities most likely to be victimized by police.
"No matter how many tears Rahm Emanuel sheds at press conferences, if he is unwilling to promote the substantive changes we demand, the world will know that he is only feigning compassion for communities of color that continue to be victimized by those sworn to serve and protect them," Sheriff said.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.