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Emanuel’s police accountability plan called ‘recipe for failure’

By mid-December 2015, there had been 22 police shootings in Chicago that year — but there was no audio available in any of them. | File photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to replace the Independent Police Review Authority with a new, multi-tiered system of police accountability is a “recipe for failure” because it is not truly independent from City Hall, a student of police misconduct charged Wednesday.

University of Chicago Law Professor Craig Futterman shot down Emanuel’s ordinance as Corporation Counsel Steve Patton softened his opposition to giving the new Civilian Office of Police Accountability authority to hire its own independent counsel instead of relying on a Law Department that defends police officers and negotiates the police contract.

“Before, it was, ‘No way.’ Over the last day, the conversation has shifted. . . . The flexibility is movement in the right direction,” said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), a leader of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus.

Waguespack said Patton raised the issue during a closed-door briefing Wednesday aimed at selling aldermen on the mayor’s plan in time for a Sept. 13 committee vote and a final Council vote on Sept. 29.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said the city is showing some flexibility on the details of the COPA ordinance. | File photo
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said the city is showing some flexibility on the details of the COPA ordinance. | File photo

“We had a good discussion about working to put parameters on how they could do hiring of outside counsel. . . . Maybe put caps on the cost. Don’t hire a lawyer at $500 an hour. Pick whatever level they typically get. Maybe choose firms they’ve already worked with and that know some of these issues. And maybe put a limit on how much can be spent in a year,” Waguespack said.

For Futterman, the demand for independent counsel is only one of several points of contention.

So is Emanuel’s decision to expand the annual caseload by “far in excess of 1,000 cases” — false arrests, illegal searches, denials of access to counsel and other constitutional complaints — without giving COPA a guaranteed budget.

“To fix what needs to be fixed, it takes resources. You need a floor of at least 1.5 percent of the Police Department budget. That’s more than two times the current budget of IPRA,” Futterman said.

“You saw cases languish because there weren’t enough resources to do the investigations or train staff how to do high-quality investigations,” he said. “Now, we’re gonna give this agency far greater responsibility and not a penny more to do it? That’s a recipe for failure. Without a sufficient budget insulated from politics, we’re essentially changing the letters and keeping the organization.”

Futterman also faulted the mayor for “kicking the can down the road” on the all-important civilian oversight board that would choose the new COPA chief.

Law professor Craig Futterman thinks the current structure of the proposed Commission on Police Accountability is a “recipe for failure.” | Provided
Law professor Craig Futterman thinks the current structure of the proposed Commission on Police Accountability is a “recipe for failure.” | Provided

“One of the things that’s not at all spelled out is a process that ensures the person who leads this agency is selected outside of usual city politics. That means, `Mayor, mitts off.’ The mayor hasn’t committed to keeping his mitts off — both in choosing who will run the office and giving the office its own lawyers,” Futterman said.

“For this agency to succeed, it needs to be truly independent from City Hall,” he added. “The way this ordinance is designed, it’s not.”

Earlier this week, Emanuel refused to engage in a public debate about the points of contention.

On Wednesday, he hustled out of a cameo appearance at a television and movie production studio in North Lawndale without answering questions on the draft ordinance released late Tuesday.

For Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former Chicago Police officer, it was like déjà vu.

“When we went from OPS, which was an appointed administrator by the mayor, to IPRA, we still got a chief administrator appointed by the mayor. And we have the same thing again. I’m looking for the differences. I’m looking for the changes because we do need community support,” Taliaferro said.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th). | Sun-Times files
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) said he sees some unfortunate similarities between COPA and the last two police oversight agencies. | Sun-Times file photo

“Implementation of a police oversight board would work well with this ordinance. But for now, it’s being excluded. I’m just hoping that it’s not being forgotten,” he said. “Until that is implemented, we’ve got a lot of the same thing with extended jurisdiction. I’m looking for something more solid with more community participation. This is a step in the right direction, but it’s part of the same thing. It’s a rearrangement of the name.”

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) represents a Southwest Side Ward that’s home to scores of Chicago Police officers.

Headed into budget hearings that are certain to include demands for more police officers, O’Shea wants to know where the money is coming from to bankroll a more robust system of police accountability.

“Just to say, `We’ll get there’ — well, how are we gonna get there? We’re clearly sacrificing something,” he said.

O’Shea said he’s also concerned about making certain police officers “get a fair shake” from the new system.

“I want to make sure that policemen out there know that this isn’t gonna be a witch hunt. This isn’t gonna be another obstacle,” O’Shea said. “I want ’em to be aggressive. I don’t want to have any more police officers delaying for a second and thinking, ‘Am I putting myself in harm’s way — both for my safety or my job, my pension, my family.’ ”

The piling on is expected to continue Thursday, when religious leaders claiming to represent 90 Chicago area churches operating under the Community Renewal Society umbrella hold a City Hall news conference.

Their demands include: a selection process for the new COPA chief independent from the mayor; a guaranteed budget “tied to the size of the Police Department”; “built-in mechanisms” to enforce recommendations from the public safety IG and the posting of all reports and recommendations from the two new entities for at least 10 years.

IPRA chief Sharon Fairley, who will serve as COPA’s first administrator until a permanent replacement is chosen, added her voice to the chorus.

“I believe that the new civilian oversight agency should have independent legal oversight of the matters that fall within the agency’s jurisdiction from start to finish,” Fairley wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times that reiterated a point she made at a City Council hearing last week.

“I am encouraged by the fact that reactions to this draft indicate that there is broad-based consensus on many of the important components that I believe are critical to effective policing oversight going forward.”