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Austin says IPRA hearings no ‘sham,’ sets neighborhood meetings

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) said the utility tax will mean higher prices at laundromats. | File photo

One of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s staunchest City Council supporters on Thursday angrily denied that hearings on a mayoral plan to abolish the Independent Police Review Authority are a “sham,” then tried to prove it, by scheduling at least four more across the city.

Civic and community leaders are demanding meaningful input on the new system of police accountability — at a time and place convenient for working people — and they’re going to get it in a process that could become rather unwieldy.

At least four nighttime neighborhood hearings will be held later this month — on the North, South, West and Southwest Sides. An aldermanic subcommittee will preside over each area, after five topics are chosen based on testimony at the two daytime hearings held this week at City Hall.

The subcommittees will then prepare a final report and a joint City Council committee will meet again to “get these ideas and solidify what we want” in a final ordinance, said Public Safety Committee Chairman Ariel Reboyras (30th).

As if those four community hearings were not enough, the anti-Emanuel Progressive Caucus plans to hold its own town hall meetings on police reform. The first one will start at 6:30 p.m. on July 21 at Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Jackson.

Reboyras said it’s “very possible” that aldermen will end up with so much public input, they won’t know what to do with it.

But he said, “Folks are saying right now that we’re a sham. I don’t see that. To prove our case, we’re gonna make every effort [to] bring it back to the community and have them weigh in on it further before we create an ordinance.”

Emanuel hinted strongly that he may not wait to introduce the ordinance. It’s already been delayed once.

“If the public would like more hearings beforehand, okay. But having worked on health care for President Obama, financial reform and passing five budgets, my attitude is, let’s introduce it,” the mayor said.

“Some individuals in the community want more hearings on top of the task force and then the ordinance. We’re gonna approach it [with] ordinance and then the changes. In the legislative process, which is what the City Council is leading, nothing introduced is the same at the end of the process.”

At Thursday’s City Hall hearing, Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) lashed out at Police Board President Lori Lightfoot for condemning the hearings before they even started.

Lori Lightfoot chaired the mayor’s police accountability task force. | Sun-Times file photo
Lori Lightfoot chaired the mayor’s police accountability task force. | Sun-Times file photo

Lightfoot co-chaired the mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability that characterized IPRA as so “badly broken,” it needs to be disbanded. She also led a group of civic leaders demanding meaningful public input before a new system of police accountability is put in place to restore public trust.

“I am truly, truly insulted. I’m insulted because the people didn’t elect me to produce farces. They elected me to do just what I’m doing this day,” Austin said during Thursday’s hearing.

“It’s a disservice to the chairman [Reboyras] and I and all 48 other members of this body. . . . We wanted to hear from our public after this report was given. To say that what we’re doing now is a farce — she can go straight to Hades. And I ain’t talking about the country.”

Lightfoot took Austin’s tirade in stride.

“I have always had a great deal of respect for Chairman Austin. I always appreciate her candor. But it’s important, as she has now said, that the public have an opportunity to be meaningfully engaged in any reform. I welcome the opportunity to work with her and any other members of the City Council to make that cry from the public a reality,” Lightfoot said.

During Thursday’s hearing, Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo called for a task force of police officers outside Chicago to investigate police shootings and deaths in police custody here.

That’s needed, he said, to correct a “direct violation of state law” triggered by IPRA’s Jan. 1 decision to take over those investigations instead of simply looking over the Police Department’s shoulder.

“IPRA is not certified and will never get certified as a lead homicide investigator,” he said.

Austin countered by questioning the need for police experts “when the Police Department is the reason we’re where we are now.”

Still, Angelo tried to portray his union as part of the solution, instead of part of the problem.

Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo wants other police officers — from outside Chicago — to help investigate allegations against city cops. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times
Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo wants other police officers — from outside Chicago — to help investigate allegations against city cops. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

The FOP president said he has held at least a half dozen meetings with the U.S. Justice Department and flew to Washington even before the feds launched their sweeping federal civil rights investigation after the court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

“Everybody knew the Justice Department was coming. You’d have to be living under a rock not to know it,” Angelo said.

“This is a new administration in the FOP. . . . We are different. We are looking at changes in policing that we’ve never seen before. . . . I don’t think we’re on different sides as much as people would imagine we are.”

Still, Angelo warned that the most recent police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota would only add to the anti-police fervor sweeping the nation.

“It becomes anti-police as soon as it’s aired. That’s the trend that we’re in right now. It’s always questionable. And we’re always wrong. Once we see what happens later on, we’ll learn the facts. But, people don’t wait for the facts anymore,” he said.

“We saw Baltimore. Three officers were all acquitted. And the fourth one is starting trial now. Right away — boom. It blew up. But in court, there’s no evidence against these guys. Everyone’s rushing too much to accuse.”

In that atmosphere, Angelo warned that a manpower shortage that has triggered runaway overtime — to the tune of $116.1 million last year — can only get worse.

“We have 291 officers that are 55 years of age and have at least 20 years of service. And I would imagine that, if not all of `em, most of `em will be gone by June of `17. . . . This is a contributing factor,” he said.

IPRA was created less than a decade ago by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley in the wake of scandals that included systemic torture of crime suspects by detectives working under Cmdr. Jon Burge and the videotaped drunken beating of a female bartender by Officer Anthony Abbate.

The agency had investigated more than 400 police shootings by late last year and ruled all but two of those shootings justified. In both cases, the shooters were off-duty police officers.

Two months ago, Emanuel did an abrupt about-face in a desperate attempt to restore public confidence shaken by his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

After saying he wanted to wait for direction from the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department, Emanuel forged ahead and embraced the most controversial and far-reaching changes proposed by his hand-picked Task Force on Police Accountability.

He said he would replace IPRA with a more independent civilian agency, appoint a public safety inspector general to monitor the police department, and create a Community Safety Oversight Board to monitor all police-related operations.

But the logistics of that broad-strokes plan were left blank. The mayor initially promised to introduce a more detailed proposal at the City Council meeting on June 22 even though Aldermen Leslie Hairston (5th) and Jason Ervin (28th) have their own pending proposals.

Last month, the mayor hit the brakes on his plan to abolish IPRA to solicit the public input that Lightfoot and other civic groups like the Chicago Urban League and the American Civil Liberties Group have demanded. Now, the brake light will stay on for a while longer.