Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office late Tuesday released a long-awaited plan to revamp the city’s police-accountability system.
The plan, a proposed ordinance, would create a new police watchdog chosen by the city’s Inspector General. Called the deputy inspector general for public safety, the new position would lead audits of city entities involved with police accountability and spotlight police department practices that violate constitutional rights.
Emanuel’s plan would also replace the Independent Police Review Authority with a new agency, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. COPA would have some new duties, such as investigating complaints that cops conducted improper searches or unlawfully denied access to counsel.
But there could be sticking points. The plan does not guarantee COPA any minimum funding, leaving significant leverage for the mayor.
When the agency needs legal help, it might have to go through the city’s Law Department, which answers to the mayor and represents police officers too.
And the plan does not say what role, if any, the community will have in choosing COPA’s chief. Instead, a statement from the mayor’s office promises a “community oversight board” whose role would be determined later.
Emanuel wanted the City Council to vote on the proposed ordinance Sept. 14. But some aldermen said the public would not have enough time to study the plan and weigh in on it.
The mayor and some of his council allies on Tuesday moved the scheduled vote to Sept. 29.
“There’s been a lot that’s gone into this,” Emanuel said. “If people need a few more weeks to look at it so they feel comfortable [that] they feel like they’ve discussed it with their constituents, that’s not going to be a stumbling block.”
The legislation comes more than nine months since a judge compelled the city to release a dashboard-camera video showing a white police officer’s fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager.
The video sparked protests, calls for police-accountability reform, and a study of police accountability by a mayor-appointed task force. The U.S. Department of Justice also launched an investigation of the police department’s use of force.
IPRA was created in 2007 by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley after a series of police scandals, including torture of suspects by detectives.
By the time the city released the McDonald shooting video last November, IPRA had investigated more than 400 police shootings but found the officers at fault in only two of the incidents, both off-duty. The agency had never concluded that an on-duty shooting was unjustified.
Last December, during a political crisis over the video, Emanuel put former federal prosecutor Sharon Fairley in charge of IPRA. Since then, the agency has gotten tougher on police misconduct.
Emanuel’s proposed ordinance would put Fairley in charge of COPA until the City Council enacted a permanent method of selecting the agency’s chief.