CITY HALL — A joint City Council committee approved a new Civilian Office of Police Accountability on Tuesday over objections that it allows little actual civilian involvement and papers over past failures.
Critics also complained that, in the interests of assuring continuity in ongoing police investigations, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposal will place Sharon Fairley, chief administrator of the soon-to-be-disbanded Independent Police Review Authority, at the head of the new COPA agency on an interim basis.
The measure passed a joint Budget and Public Safety Committee by a 21-4 vote and heads to the full City Council on Wednesday for final approval.
Emanuel immediately cheered the move, issuing a statement saying: "These changes are critical to our efforts to restore trust between the Chicago Police Department and the residents they are sworn to protect and serve." The mayor said it demonstrated "our commitment to thoughtful and meaningful reform, and shows that we have every intention of addressing the real challenges facing the Police Department."
It did not pass without reservations, however.
"The mayor's ordinance is fundamentally flawed," said Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who previously testified that one of the main problems with IPRA was that it employed much of the same personnel from the agency it replaced nine years ago. Futterman added that there is "absolutely no role for community in this ordinance."
"The proposed ordinance by the administration has made no changes," said Ald. Christopher Taliaferro (29th), a former Chicago Police officer.
The police reform ordinance submitted by Emanuel on Tuesday would also create a deputy inspector general in the area of public safety, but left until later to create a separate civilian oversight board, as recommended by the Police Accountability Task Force in its April report. Corporation Counsel Steve Patton called that "the last piece of this three-legged stool" on police reform and said it would be taken up in the new year.
"Any stool with just two legs is not going to have any support at all," Taliaferro lashed back, asking that the entire police-reform package be delayed until 2017. "To me, it is a rush," Taliaferro added.
Patton, however, said, "We are at or are very close to a crisis point here," in that IPRA staff has been dwindling for months, thus creating a backlog in probes of police misconduct.
Adam Gross, of Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, backed the ordinance, but said the civilian oversight board was essential to give guidance to COPA, and he suggested it be charged with selecting COPA's chief administrator. He called that key to "real reform and accountability."
Aldermen Leslie Hairston (5th) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) led calls to take up a true civilian oversight agency. They've submitted competing proposals for such a civilian board.
"The mayor is insisting on reinventing the wheel," Hairston said, calling for her Independent Police Citizen Monitor Ordinance to be taken up by the committee, along with a complementary proposal submitted by Ald. Jason Ervin (28th).
Calling the "community component" a "good place to start," Hairston said, "I think they should all be taken together."
She added, "I hope we can get to a point where we can have community engagement with real community engagement."
Ervin pointed out that Emanuel's proposal was opposed by local bodies of the NAACP and by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
Ramirez-Rosa insisted his proposal for a Civilian Police Accountability Council would create "real police reform, real police accountability" and provide "true community control of the police."
He cited how a plurality of 40 percent of people attending citywide public hearings on police reform backed CPAC, which would create a board with one member elected from each city police district.
"This is what the community truly wants," Ramirez-Rosa said.
"This is rigged," said Frank Chapman of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression, which has pushed the CPAC proposal for years. "They have no intention of considering our legislation ever."
Chapman charged that the ordinance the committee considered Tuesday was a "smoke-and-mirrors game" played by Emanuel.
Mike Elliott, of the same group, said COPA is pronounced "cop-A" in his community. He called it "IPRA in new clothes."
"It is clear that the demands of the community are not being met," said Karl Brinson, president of the Chicago Westside Branch of the NAACP.
Patton blamed community groups for the delay in adopting a civilian oversight board, saying they sought to have more time. Brinson, however, said his group wasn't even consulted until late August.
"The way this process has played out has been a total insult to the people of Chicago," Brinson said in calling for the matter to be deferred. "Public input has not been weighed heavily enough."
Patton said the ordinance attempts to strike "a middle ground" between the rights of citizens and police officers without putting "a thumb on the scale" on either side. Yet Brian Hlavin, attorney for the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police union, raised several objections and threatened that it would result in more police lawsuits.
"In the rush to put this through, there is a great reliance on the complainant," Hlavin said.
The meeting briefly broke into chaos during the public-comment session after Ald. Carrie Austin, chairman of the Budget Committee, shut off the microphone on George Blakemore. Queen Sister was ushered out by police after shouting profanities at Austin, and others in the gallery defending her right to speak were ushered out with her.
COPA will become the city's main agency for investigating police shootings and charges of misconduct, while the deputy inspector general for public safety will have oversight on those probes as well as the entire law-enforcement system. The measure passed Tuesday would also set basic funding levels.
Those voting against included Hairston, Taliaferro and Aldermen Nicholas Sposato (38th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st).
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