Another piece of Chicago’s multi-tiered system of police accountability fell into place Thursday in a way that is likely to result in the reappointment of Inspector General Joe Ferguson.
After a lengthy screening process, Ferguson nominated veteran police reformer and researcher Laura Kunard to be the city’s $137,052-a-year deputy inspector general for public safety. Ferguson could not be reached for comment.
Kunard, who has a Ph.D. in criminology, currently serves as a senior research scientist for CNA, a nonprofit research organization that works on policing initiatives for the U.S. Justice Department.
She is also a member of the court-appointed independent monitoring team overseeing a consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice and the police department in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
That’s something that Attorney General Jeff Sessions signaled again this week is unlikely to happen in Chicago.
Without court oversight, the new deputy inspector general for public safety, who will preside over a 25-employee, $1.8 million unit, will likely play a more important oversight role.
In addition to her work at CNA, Kunard serves as the principle investigator on a DOJ National Institute of Justice-supported study of police technology.
“Laura Kunard has spent her career working around the country on the implementation of reforms to professionalize policing and rebuild trust between communities and police,” Ferguson was quoted as saying in a press release.
“With Dr. Kunard at the helm and through accountability and transparency, our office will promote best practices in the Chicago Police Department to foster the professionalism and trust needed to create productive partnerships with the communities it serves,” he said.
Sources said Kunard’s appointment is likely to result in the reappointment of Ferguson, whose four-year term expires later this year.
Candidates for the deputy IG’s job wanted and received assurances that the man who hired them would not be departing in a few months, sources said.
Ferguson spent two years in a cold war with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, which included a legal battle over access to documents that went all the way to the state Supreme Court.
Their relationship was so frosty it appeared that Emanuel was counting the days until Ferguson’s term expired. It was only after the Ohio bribery scandal that culminated in the conviction of former City Comptroller Amer Ahmad that Emanuel seemed to realize Ferguson was more helpful than threatening.
In 2013, Emanuel reappointed Ferguson with the unwritten understanding that the IG would step down after a year. Eight months later, Ferguson decided to serve out his new four-year term after dramatically improving his once-contentious relationship with the mayor.
When a federal judge released Chicago from the Shakman decree and dismissed a federal hiring monitor, Ferguson assumed the all-important power to police city hiring in the post-Shakman era. He also won limited oversight over the City Council after the legislative IG’s office was disbanded.
In a letter to the mayor and the City Council last fall that accompanied his quarterly report, Ferguson argued that the new system of police accountability was the “beginning — not the end, in the long path” toward establishing “public legitimacy and confidence” in the Chicago Police Department.
Ferguson said then that the deputy IG for public safety would “strive to meet that call by scrutinizing investigations” of police misconduct and the discipline that follows.
The deputy IG also will analyze “policing and police accountability practices and procedures” and provide “robust public reporting of findings and recommendations along with” responses to those suggestions from the Police Department and the new Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) that will replace the Independent Police Review Authority.
“Much of OIG’s recently increasing work around police and police accountability has come at the expense of resources intended to provide oversight for all of city government,” Ferguson wrote then.
“Historically, the city did not provide the resources or the open cooperation needed for OIG to bring the full benefits of independent oversight to CPD — a department that delivers one of the most important municipal services and constitutes approximately 40 percent of the city’s workforce and operating budget,” he wrote. “The creation of a special subject matter unit dedicated to such work marks public safety oversight as an executive and legislative priority, constituting an important milestone in the city’s history.”
But Ferguson warned that City Council approval of the first two parts of Emanuel’s police accountability overhaul — COPA and the new public safety IG — marked the “beginning — not the end in the long path” toward restoring public trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.
“As we build the unit, public discussion must continue regarding the composition and powers of a community oversight board, another nationally recognized cornerstone to police reform,” Ferguson wrote.
“No reform in this arena can be successful without a participatory voice from the community the system is supposed to serve. The work of the future police and police accountability function, no matter how substantive and rigorous, cannot be fully effective if it is not responsive to the evolving needs of the community and critically assessed by a formal community oversight board constituted of true representatives of and from the communities we all serve.”