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New Police Oversight Agency Will Be Faster And More Thorough, Head Says

By Heather Cherone | October 25, 2016 4:53pm | Updated on October 26, 2016 10:53am
 Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), left, and Independent Police Review Authority Chief Administrator Sharon Fairley discuss the new Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), left, and Independent Police Review Authority Chief Administrator Sharon Fairley discuss the new Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

CITY HALL — The city's new police oversight agency will investigate allegations of excessive force and misconduct by police officers more thoroughly and faster, the interim head of the new organization told the City Council on Tuesday.

Sharon Fairley, who is leading the effort to disband the Independent Police Review Authority and replace it with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, said she is in the process of hiring more investigators and giving them more resources in the wake of the outcry prompted by the release of a dashcam video showing a police officer fatally shoot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times two years ago.

"It will be truly different than [the Independent Police Review Authority]," Fairley said while appearing before the City Council to discuss the new agency's budget, which will reach $17 million once it is fully operational. "We will have resources that we never had before."

The new agency will have 75 investigators, with 15 assigned to major cases where someone is killed or seriously injured by an officer, Fairley told the council. They will report to 15 supervisors, Fairley said.

That will strike the "right balance" by cutting the number of investigators who report to each supervisor from 10 to five, Fairley said.

Fairley said she was working to get the new agency "off on the right foot" while winding down the Independent Police Review Authority, which was roundly criticized for failing to hold officers accountable for misconduct.

"We are building a culture where quality and timeliness are valued," Fairley said, adding that a similar state of affairs did not exist at Independent Police Review Authority when she took over in January.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability will be up and running "as soon as possible" but no later than Sept. 30, 2017.

Most complaints of misconduct should be closed within six months, Fairley said, adding that the new agency will have a far more robust legal staff to help investigators.

The Independent Police Review Authority has more than 1,100 open investigations into police misconduct, Fairley said. Fifty-nine cases are more than two years old, Fairley said.

"There is no real reason those cases weren't closed faster," Fairley said.

Fairley said she expected a "substantial" number of current misconduct investigators to be hired by the new police accountability agency, which is also conducting a "broad-based" nationwide recruiting effort.

That prompted Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) to remind Fairley the new agency was designed to address a widespread belief that the Independent Police Review Authority failed in its mission to police the police.

"This is where the rubber meets the road," Hairston said. "To have every Moe, Larry and Curly, the usual suspects, will undermine its credibility."

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) urged Fairley to hire as many "men of color" as possible.

"All eyes will be on this department," Ervin said.

Ald. Ariel Reyboras (30th) asked Fairley about concerns that the new agency would be biased against officers.

"We are going to call balls and strikes right down the middle," Fairley said.

Several aldermen, including Reyboras, the chairman of the council's public safety committee, said Fairley should lead the Civilian Office of Police Accountability on a permanent basis.

After the hearing, Fairley said she was pleased with the support, but declined to say whether she would ask to lead the new agency after it is established.

"This transition is so big, it is all I can focus on," Fairley said. "Once it is over, then you can ask me."

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