CITY HALL — A research scientist who helped lead the nationwide effort to reform policing during the Obama administration got a stamp of approval from a City Council committee Monday — but not before the aldermen questioned whether she had enough real world experience to oversee Chicago officers.
Laura Kunard, a senior research scientist for justice programs for CNA, a nonprofit research organization in Arlington, Va., was picked by city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson to be Chicago's first deputy inspector general for public safety.
Kunard began her testimony before a joint session of the committees on public safety as well as budget and government operations by saying there could be no doubt that Chicago's system of holding officers accountable for misconduct has "lost legitimacy in the eyes of Chicagoans."
Kunard said she would work to unravel the "tangled patchwork" of how officers are held accountable.
"Stated simply, Chicagoans don't trust the system," Kunard said.
If confirmed by the Council, Kunard will be paid $137,052 a year to oversee a 25-employee, $1.8 million unit in Ferguson's office charged with scrutinizing police misconduct investigations and the discipline imposed on officers.
That caused 34th Ward Ald. Carrie Austin yo bristle, saying she is tired of outsiders criticizing the Chicago Police Department.
"I really get tired of people saying that because I've been here 22 years and things have been operating — maybe not at its best, but it has been operating. It does a disservice to us as a city for you all to come in here and say that," Austin said.
Other aldermen questioned whether Kunard — who has spent most of her career as an academic — had enough "real world" experience to bring change to Chicago.
Kunard said one of her highest priorities would be to establish a functioning early warning system to flag officers who have been the subject of serious complaints.
Kunard, a native of Minnesota who said she fell in love with Chicago as a freshman at Northwestern University, said she would listen to Chicago police officers, city officials and community members about efforts to reform the department.
Kunard also touted her experience as part of the team charged with enforcing court-ordered reforms of the Albuquerque Police Department after the U.S. Justice Department during the Obama administration found pervasive civil rights violations.
A federal investigation completed just days before President Barack Obama left office found Chicago's police force routinely violated the civil rights of residents by using excessive force caused by poor training and nonexistent supervision.
That report found that police misconduct investigations were "glacially slow and staffed by overworked and undertrained investigators who often fail to obtain basic witness statements and evidence," said Vanita Gupta, who led the the civil rights division of the Justice Department.
Officers are "too rarely held accountable for misconduct, and discipline is unpredictable and ineffective," Gupta said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has vowed to reform the Police Department — and he is likely to be left on his own by Trump administration to do so.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the report was "pretty anecdotal, and not so scientifically based."
Sessions has long been a critic of consent decrees. In 2008, the then-senator called consent decrees "dangerous" and said they "constitute an end run around the democratic process.
Acknowledging that a consent decree is unlikely in Chicago, Kunard said she envisions her role in Chicago as very similar to what she did in New Mexico: She would keep reform efforts on track by establishing a road map and ensuring that it is followed.
The unit headed by Kunard will not only oversee police misconduct investigations but also examine policies put in place by department officials and whether the Police Department has the resources to implement them, Ferguson said.
The position was created when the Council endorsed Emanuel's effort to disband the Independent Police Review Authority and replace it with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability 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.
The new agency must be up and running by the end of September. City leaders have vowed that the new agency will investigate allegations of excessive force and misconduct by police officers more thoroughly and faster.