Up to 6 weeks of training for new police oversight agency jobs

SHARE Up to 6 weeks of training for new police oversight agency jobs

Sharon Fairley and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. | Charles Rex Arbogast| AP

More than 120 investigators and legal staffers for Chicago’s new Civilian Office of Police Accountability must undergo four to six weeks of “classroom and hands-on” training, followed by tests, to qualify for their jobs.

Independent Police Review Authority chief Sharon Fairley raised eyebrows last month when she told aldermen that investigators at her soon-to-be-abolished agency would be free to apply for jobs at COPA and that she anticipated hiring many of them.

Fairley will serve as COPA’s interim chief because Mayor Rahm Emanuel has postponed indefinitely the appointment of a civilian oversight board that will choose the new agency’s permanent chief.

According to a request for proposals from companies interested in training COPA’s beefed-up staff, 103 investigators and 19 legal staffers will be required to undergo at least 171 hours of training. That will cover everything from complaint intake, interviewing techniques and forensic and DNA analysis to affidavit requests and overrides and “effective case and time management.”

Even more extensive is the training that investigators and legal staffers will receive in Chicago Police Department rules, regulations and procedures.

The RFP outlines four to eight hours of  classroom and hands-on training on each of the following topics: use of force; Taser and control devices; vehicle pursuit; crisis intervention training; de-escalation and equipment, including body and dashboard cameras. The training will be conducted by “subject matter experts” from Chicago and elsewhere, the RFP says.

All of that is in addition to one week of more general training on the “vision and culture” of the new agency for all 140 of COPA’s full-time employees.

“It is definitely more robust training,” said Mia Sissac, a spokeswoman for IPRA. “We are upgrading this agency. We want to make sure the investigative staff has all the tools it needs. The agency is growing. We want to make sure everyone is trained.”

Last week, Fairley announced the hiring of Thomas Kim, who was the head investigator for the New York agency that looks into allegations of police misconduct. Kim will become the No. 2 official in COPA and will head up the investigative staff.

He was responsible for about 110 investigators in New York and helped preside over reforms that reduced the length of the agency’s investigations, officials there said.

The Fraternal Order of Police and its City Council allies opposed Emanuel’s plan to replace IPRA with COPA because they were afraid the new agency would be stacked against rank-and-file officers. But the extensive training in police organization, general orders and techniques could help ease those fears.

Other elements of the training could allay the concerns of police reform advocates, who fear that the change from IPRA to COPA, triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, could be a change in name only.

“The investigative training will also include a testing element for investigative staff. The program will be designed to include at least one, perhaps additional tests that investigative staff must pass to retain positions for which they were hired,” the RFP states.

The training is expected to begin “as early as” March 1 and no later than May 1, “depending on how quickly investigative staff is hired.” COPA will be up and running “no later than Sept. 30.”

In some cases, the designated training contractor will be required to perform “administrative services, such as scheduling, identifying locations and preparing materials” for training developed by the city.

In other cases, the outside contractor will be responsible for developing and preparing training content.

The plan for “hands-on” training should please Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), a former police officer-turned-firefighter whose far Northwest Side ward is home to scores of police officers.

During budget hearings, Napolitano told Fairley: “I’m a big fan of getting your investigators on the street — on more than one ride-along and with detectives as well. Sitting with police officers and finding out what’s going on on both sides of the fence.”

Fairley, whose demoralized investigative staff is down to 44 people, assured aldermen on that day that the new agency would “call the balls and strikes right down the middle” after exhaustive training.

She also expressed confidence that the guaranteed budget approved by the City Council — 1 percent of the Chicago Police Department’s budget, not including grant funding — would pave the way for a dramatic reduction in the caseload handled by individual investigators.

Advocates have complained that the $8.4 million IPRA budget virtually guarantees that investigations of police wrongdoing will drag on for months or even years.

COPA’s budget will now be “closer to $17 million,” Fairley has said. The influx of resources is particularly important, considering the fact that 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.

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