The release of the video of the killing of Laquan McDonald lifted the curtain on Chicago’s code of silence and revealed an astounding lack of police accountability throughout the city.
For months, the mayor has attempted to answer calls for reform. He fired the police superintendent, and has now anointed a new chief, spurning the three candidates offered by the Police Board. He also created an accountability task force — whose members he appointed. And the mayor appointed a new head of the Independent Police Review Authority, or IPRA, the agency that investigates police shootings, allegations of excessive force and other misconduct. The people of Chicago need more than a string of new mayoral appointments to achieve real police accountability to the community.
The City Council’s Black Caucus brought a successful petition to the U.S. Department of Justice for a civil rights pattern and practice investigation, which highlighted IPRA’s central role in facilitating Chicago’s police code of silence. After bringing the problem to light, the City Council now has the chance to be a part of the solution. Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) has announced that she is introducing an ordinance that will abolish IPRA and replace it with a truly independent and empowered citizen body to conduct high quality investigations into police misconduct that are fully transparent and accountable to the entire community. This is real reform. The ordinance, which has broad support from civil rights organizations like the NAACP, the faith community, academics, and good government groups, does a number of things to earn the public trust:
• It replaces IPRA with an independent citizen police monitor selected with meaningful input from representatives of Chicago’s communities most impacted by police abuse;
• It provides the monitor with the power and resources needed to conduct high quality investigations;
• It ties its budget to that of the Police Department, guaranteeing at least 1.5 percent of the CPD budget, thereby insulating its budget from political fiat;
• It empowers the monitor to investigate all incidents in which officers are accused of abusing ordinary people;
• It gives the monitor the power to identify and root out patterns of abuse;
• It provides full transparency and accountability to the public by keeping people informed from start to finish;
• It addresses the code of silence; and most importantly,
• It ensures accountability when officers abuse their power to hurt people.
Passage of the ordinance cannot cure Chicago’s absence of police accountability by itself, but it is a critical first step toward genuine change. The citizen monitor would remedy what most plagues IPRA – bias, the lack of independence, lack of resources, and lack of transparency and accountability to the public.
Shaking up an entire agency requires real resources and courage, at a time when both have been lacking. However, the hundreds of lost lives, the thousands of people who have endured brutality at the hands of the police, the numerous families who have lost a child or parent as a result of a false arrest, and the destruction of families and communities from false arrests, the $662 million paid by taxpayers for police abuse since 2004, and the stolen honor of the thousands of upstanding officers — all due to the lack of police accountability in Chicago — must end.
Real leadership requires more than firing people and replacing them with others. It takes an act of true courage to cede power to the broader community. It is time for the Mayor and the entire City Council to show that courage and leadership. It’s time for the community to play a real role in police oversight.
It’s time to end the code of silence in Chicago.
Craig Futterman is Clinical Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School. Sheila A. Bedi is Associate Clinical Professor of Law, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. They provided research input into the proposed ordinance.
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