With broader powers certain to create an expanded caseload, Chicago’s new Civilian Office of Police Accountability opens for business Sept. 15 with 140 full-time employees, 90 of them investigators.
The 45 percent increase in staff undergoing seven weeks of training is apparently not enough to guarantee the independence that the soon-to-be-abolished Independent Police Review Authority lacked. That’s why COPA wants even more investigative help.
The agency charged with investigating police wrongdoing has issued a request-for-qualifications from “subject matter experts” with experience investigating and reviewing six different categories of cases: use of force; testing and analysis of ballistic evidence; crime scene reconstruction; forensic analysis of digital evidence; forensic medicine; and motor vehicle accident reconstruction.
The city intends to sign “one or more master consulting agreements” for each of those six categories, then issue “task orders” that will allow those pre-qualified companies to:
- Review and analyze evidence in relevant case files and provide opinions based on the evidence.
- Review Chicago Police Department directives relevant to conduct at issue in the investigation.
- Assist investigative teams with analyzing the evidence in complex matters.
- Participate in internal COPA case review meetings where evidence and possible findings are discussed and assessed.
- Create reports that summarize evidence and experts opinions.
To qualify, consultants must have anywhere from five-to-10 years of experience in the various disciplines.
IPRA spokesperson Mia Sissac said the “subject matter experts” are pivotal to restoring public confidence shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald and by the U.S. Justice Department’s portrayal of Chicago Police officers as poorly trained and seldom punished for excessive force and civil rights abuses.
“IPRA never did anything like this. It just speaks to us having our cases fully-independent and untethered from the Chicago Police Department,” Sissac said.
“The more we have to rely on the Police Department and their expertise to interpret evidence for us, that keeps us from being independent.”
Under questioning, Sissac acknowledged that IPRA’s investigation of a police pursuit that culminated in a crash that killed a woman and an off-duty police officer would benefit from the use of subject matter experts.
The family of the woman killed in that crash has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming wrongful death and excessive force.
The officer, Taylor Clark, 32, allegedly drove through the intersection of Roosevelt and Kostner at “a high rate of speed” and collided with a vehicle driven by 27-year-old Chequita Adams, killing them both.
“That would be a great place to use subject matter experts,” Sissac said.
Last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Task Force on Police Accountability characterized IPRA as so “badly broken” it needed to be abolished.
Emanuel, who had already replaced IPRA chief Scott Ando with Sharon Fairley, initially balked at getting rid of IPRA before reversing field.
After months of behind-the-scenes bargaining with stakeholders and countless public hearings, the City Council approved the first two parts of Emanuel’s police accountability overhaul: a Civilian Office of Police Accountability to replace IPRA and a deputy inspector general for public safety, whose duties include auditing police practices.
Critics worried that with City Hall holding the purse strings, the new oversight agencies would not be truly independent; Emanuel agreed to give COPA a guaranteed budget of one percent of the Chicago Police Department’s budget — not including grant funding.
COPA will inherit an expanded annual caseload tied to its broader powers to investigate false arrests, illegal searches, denials of counsel and other constitutional complaints.