CITY HALL — A leading legal expert blasted Chicago Police practices Wednesday, charging they were largely unchanged from the torture era of Cmdr. Jon Burge, and called for the creation of a community oversight board.
"There remains an utter lack of police accountability," said Craig Futterman, a law professor at the University of Chicago, in testimony before the City Council's new Police Accountability Subcommittee. "The police code of silence," in which officers protect each other, he added, "continues unabated."
Futterman made several charges against the Police Department, the Police Board and the Independent Police Review Authority before laying out his plan for a "community oversight board" to monitor Department conduct.
Futterman said Chicago's problem with police legitimacy was "not just a few bad apples," but a systemic failure dating back to the torture tactics of Cmdr. Jon Burge 25 and 30 years ago.
"The underlying conditions that allowed that to take place haven't been addressed," he said.
Futterman said he felt "deja vu" with testimony he offered almost 10 years ago during a similar crisis that saw the creation of the Independent Police Review Authority to replace the Office of Professional Standards.
According to Futterman, IPRA first hired much of the same personnel left over from OPS. Then, under Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointee Scott Ando, it went "back to business as usual," as "investigators were trained to protect police officers from discipline."
Futterman charged that Ando brought in a training firm called the Force Science Institute to train investigators. He called that agency "a national laughingstock."
The end result, he said, was that it proved "completely effective at protecting officers who have abused from accountability," allowing "those who have no business wearing a badge to run amok." He zeroed in on Jason Van Dyke, the officer facing murder charges for shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times in October 2014. Futterman said Van Dyke had already shown he was a problem officer "long before he ever unloaded those 16 shots."
Futterman praised IPRA's new Chief Administrator Sharon Fairley as "credible" and "competent," saying, "I think she's done a damn good job." Yet he nonetheless added, "There's no doubt IPRA does need to be abolished. It lacks any credibility with the community."
Instead, Futterman proposed a community oversight board consisting of 11 people appointed by the inspector general. They would then select a lead civilian investigator charged with probing police misconduct. He also suggested the inspector general appoint a lead deputy assigned to nothing but public-safety issues.
"What Chicago hasn't seen, what the community hasn't seen, is a commitment to accountability," Futterman said. "This isn't easy. That's why it takes commitment in resources and sustained commitment."
Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project, agreed that the essential issue was "finding a way to regenerate police legitimacy." Yet he took issue with Futterman's community oversight board, saying, "Civilian review has significant issues," with elections prone to politics that can undermine attempts at reform.
Frank Chapman, of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression, called on aldermen to reject a "cherry-picking" approach, bringing together concepts from several competing proposals for police reform, and instead adopt his concept of a Civilian Police Accountability Council, with members elected from each of the city's 22 police districts.
"What we want is an all-civilian, all-elected police accountability council," Chapman said.
Yet Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), chairman of the subcommittee, said that was exactly its assignment, to pour through many proposals submitted by aldermen and at community meetings to arrive at a single package of police reforms.
"There are a number of proposals, and we're taking testimony from both the community and experts to better evaluate what to put together as far as legislation," Munoz said. "I'm in favor of civilian participation, and we're expecting the testimony will help us craft that."
The subcommittee is scheduled to meet again Aug. 24. Aldermen Ariel Reboyras (30th) and Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the Public Safety Committee and the Budget Committee, which spawned the new panel, have said they're trying to put together a police-reform package before the September City Council meeting, but also have added that given the importance of the issue it can't be rushed.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: