Police accountability overhaul ‘beginning — not the end,’ IG says

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Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson | Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new multi-tiered system of police accountability is the “beginning — not the end, in the long path” toward establishing “public legitimacy and confidence” in the Chicago Police Department, Inspector General Joe Ferguson said Tuesday.

In a letter to the mayor and the City Council that accompanied his quarterly report, Ferguson said the new, $137,052-a-year deputy inspector general for public safety who will preside over a 25-employee, $1.8 million unit in his office will “strive to meet that call by scrutinizing investigations” of police misconduct and the discipline that follows.

The deputy IG will also analyze “policing and police accountability practices and procedures” and provide “robust public reporting” of its own findings and the response to those recommendations by the Police Department and the new Civilian Office of Police Accountability that will replace IPRA.

“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.

“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. 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 — marks the “beginning — not the end in the long path” toward restoring public trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

“Public discussion must continue regarding the composition and powers of a community oversight board, another nationally recognized cornerstone to police reform,” Ferguson wrote, without saying whether he believes the oversight board should be elected, appointed or under mayoral control.

“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.”

Ferguson served on the mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability that branded the Independent Police Review Authority so “badly broken” it needed to be abolished and replaced by a more powerful agency with a guaranteed budget of one percent of the Chicago Police Department’s annual spending not including grant funding.

The Task Force further recommended the appointment of a deputy inspector general for public safety with its own guaranteed budget.

After months of deliberations and nine public hearings across the city, Emanuel and the City Council ended up adopting that blueprint.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that COPA will start its work with a six-month, $7.2 million budget and 141 employees, a 45 percent increase over the staff assigned to IPRA.

The mayor’s budget also includes a longer than expected transition from IPRA to COPA. IPRA will remain in place until mid-year, with 97 employees and a six-month budget of $2.9 million before ceding authority to COPA.

IPRA chief Sharon Fairley will preside over both the new and old agencies because Emanuel has postponed indefinitely the appointment of a civilian oversight board that will choose the new permanent COPA chief.

The newspaper also reported that Emanuel’s proposed, 2017 budget includes a $1.8 million annual budget and 25 employees for the new deputy inspector general for public safety.

In his quarterly report, Ferguson publicly acknowledged for the first time that he recommended the firing of 11 police officers accused of covering up the police shooting of Laquan McDonald shooting or bungling the investigation of the shooting.

“CPD took final administrative action respecting 11 separate OIG reports. Each report recommended the termination of a sworn member of the department, ranging from patrol officers to senior supervisory personnel who had a role in the subsequent reporting and investigation of the incident,” Ferguson wrote.

“In response, the superintendent initiated charges to terminate five of the 11 sworn members as OIG recommended and the charges are now pending before the Police Board. CPD disagreed with OIG respecting one of the 11 officers. The remaining five officers either retired or resigned after OIG tendered to the superintendent its finding and recommendations.”

As the Sun-Times reported last summer, Ferguson said his investigation “continues respecting other officers connected to the matter.” A more detailed summary of the investigation will be released after the investigation is over.

On Nov. 24, Van Dyke was charged with murder by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, which had reinvestigated the shooting along with the FBI. A video from a police vehicle’s dashboard camera, made public on Nov. 24, showed that McDonald was walking away from Van Dyke and his partner when he was shot 16 times.

In December, Fairley asked Ferguson, her former boss, to review the involvement of other officers in the McDonald case. Fairley said she made the request to boost public confidence in the review since it would be done by an agency that hadn’t previously been involved in the case — as IPRA was.

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