Emanuel says to scrap police review authority

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Newly appointed head of the Independent Police Review Board Sharon Fairley listens as Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at a news conference in December. (File Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Friday that he wants to scrap the agency that handles complaints against the police and replace it with a civilian version — just a little over three weeks after he suggested moving slowly on the controversial reform.

Emanuel revealed his decision to take quicker action in an opinion piece published online in the Sun-Times. In it, the mayor indicated that he plans to embrace three key recommendations of the Police Accountability Task Force report that was issued last month.

Emanuel plans to:

  • Replace the Independent Police Review Authority with a civilian investigative agency.
  • Create a new position, the public safety inspector general.
  • Create a Community Safety Oversight Board.

After the task force report was released last month, Emanuel didn’t rule out abolishing IPRA, but the mayor suggested he wanted to consult first with the U.S. Justice Department, which launched an investigation of the Chicago Police Department after the release of the Laquan McDonald video.

“If you’re going to make changes, you don’t want the Justice Department coming and saying, ‘You got that wrong. Now, do it again.’ These are big, heavy lifts. . . . Nothing can be worse than trying to do this twice,” the mayor said in April.

It’s unclear whether Emanuel received any federal feedback, but he made it clear in his op-ed piece, posted online Friday, that the current agency has to go.

“Under the leadership of Sharon Fairley, IPRA has taken important steps to reshape and improve its investigative efforts. But it is clear that a totally new agency is required to rebuild trust in investigations of officer-involved shootings and the most serious allegations of police misconduct. As we create this new civilian agency, the Police Board will continue to hear cases regarding those police officers who face allegations of serious misconduct, as required by Illinois state law,” Emanuel wrote.

The accountability task force’s scathing 190-page report had been formally released to great fanfare in a news conference at the Harold Washington Library. That report called out systemic and longstanding racism in the Chicago Police Department and called for sweeping changes in officer training and discipline. It found that African Americans and Hispanics are four times more likely than whites to be stopped by police while driving, and nearly three quarters of “street stops” conducted by police targeted blacks. While comprising just a third of the city’s population, 72 percent of the people shocked with Tasers by police officers were black. The report also found that race seemed to influence promotion within the department.

That report was issued after four months of work by a the task force, which had been hand-picked by Emanuel.

Lori Lightfoot, chair of the Chicago Police Board, addresses community leaders and members of the news media about the findings of the Police Accountability Task Force last month. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Lori Lightfoot, chair of the Chicago Police Board, addresses community leaders and members of the news media about the findings of the Police Accountability Task Force last month. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Even so, the mayor was at first reluctant to embrace the recommendations, including the task force’s call to dissolve IPRA. Some changes, such as a requirement that all officers would be wearing body cameras, have been announced.

But the mayor remains under pressure to act, with the federal probe of the Chicago Police Department underway and a new New York Times poll showing much discontent with him, and with the police.

“Our goal has been to act quickly wherever possible but also to commit to the hard work to ensure all of our reforms will stand the test of time. As this process continues, we will issue quarterly reports so we can all be held accountable,” Emanuel wrote.

The mayor said the new public safety inspector general would “audit and monitor policing in Chicago.” That would include the authority to perform regular audits of both the police department as well as the new investigative agency that replaces IPRA.

The “Community Safety Oversight Board,” he wrote, would “oversee the city’s entire policy accountability system.” It would hold public meetings, and receive regular public reports from the police department as well as from the new investigative agency, the Police Review Board and the new public safety inspector general.

The oversight board also will have the power to ask for audits and make improvements.

“The new board will give a voice to Chicago residents whose lives are affected daily by police practices. It will also provide a forum for our Police Department to respond to concerns and share information. Public dialogue is essential to building a common understanding of how best to keep our communities safe,” Emanuel wrote.

“While much work still remains, we will continue to make significant strides on the road to reform. To fully fix Chicago’s police accountability system, we must be thoughtful and bold and have the courage to call out and address the root causes that have eroded trust between police and Chicago’s communities and some of Chicago’s residents.”

In its report, the task force said there was an “utter absence of a culture of accountability” in the Police Department. One potential reason? The panel found that only 2 percent of complaints against officers were sustained by IPRA, and only 1 percent of officers were exonerated of the claims against them. Thousands of complaints were virtually ignored or left in administrative nowhere — not verified one way or the other, or verified but deemed not to merit action.

The Independent Police Review Authority dates to 2007. That was the year when the old agency that handled police complaints, the Office of Professional Standards, was severed from the Police Department in an effort to restore public confidence that the city was serious about policing the police.

The new agency became a separate city department with subpoena power and a chief administrator reporting directly to the mayor. The name was designed to underscore its independence.

“This new name indicates what it is — it’s now independent. They are reviewing the various complaints against police officers. They have authority to make recommendations,” said then-Police Committee Chairman Isaac Carothers.

Carothers was the 29th Ward alderman who later went to prison after pleading guilty to public corruption charges.

Police Accountability Task Force by jroneill

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