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Council members hear more testimony on police accountability

Frank Chapman, field organizer for the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, told Council members he wants a civilian-elected police accountability council. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

The public had another chance to weigh in on police accountability Wednesday morning at City Hall.

About a dozen residents or others interested in the issue showed up for a hearing on how to reform the process — including what to do with the Independent Police Review Authority, which a task force has recommended abolishing.

The City Council’s subcommittee on police accountability heard testimony on IPRA, as well as how to address issues of police-community engagement, accountability and transparency.

Council hearings, along with a series of public town hall meetings that have been held in recent months, are meant to provide aldermen insight on a police accountability ordinance to be considered by the full City Council in September.

Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor and specialist in matters involving police brutality and racial discrimination, spoke first. He did not hold back in his criticisms of the current accountability system, which he said has allowed “those who have no business wearing a badge to run amok.”

Futterman, who also has sued the city, praised IPRA Chief Administrator Sharon Fairley’s performance in her role, but he said IPRA still should be abolished and a new regulatory body put in place to review cases of alleged police misconduct. The new body should, he said, be similar to IPRA, but would open up police and misconduct data to the public.

“We need to create a culture of excellence, integrity, accountability and transparency to the people of Chicago,” he said, proposing a new city position — inspector general of public safety — who would be independent of city government and have the power to audit the internal affairs of the Chicago Police Department and also to conduct confidential investigations when necessary.

Current city Inspector General Joe Ferguson would appoint members to a selection committee that in turn would select the inspector general of public safety, Futterman proposed. The members would include those most affected by police misconduct, including the black, Latino, immigrant and LGBTQ communities, Futterman said.

“It’s important that the communities that have been affected by police abuse have real representation and real power in the selection of the person who investigates police abuse,” he said.

Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project, who specializes in criminal and social justice, echoed Futterman’s calls for the elimination of IPRA.

“The real issue that we’re dealing with here is finding a way to regenerate police legitimacy,” he said, adding that the best way to rebuild that legitimacy is through public support.

“If we build the greatest accountability system the U.S. has ever seen, but the public does not buy in or has no faith, it’s meaningless,” he said.

But earning that support might not be easy.

Mike Elliot, a member of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, addressed the council members to express his displeasure with the experts’ suggestions. He rejected the suggestion for a new appointed inspector general position and reignited the Alliance’s calls for an elected civilian police accountability council.

“We will no longer accept any appointments of any types,” he said. “If you decide to ignore CPAC, you will feel the backlash of the people, because that is what they want.”