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Emanuel crafting compromise on police accountability

The Rev. Larry Dowling of St. Agatha's Church in North Lawndale (left) and the Rev. Eddie Knox, chairman of the Community Renewal Society, held a news conference Thursday outside the mayor's office. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is working to craft a compromise to address the two biggest complaints about his Civilian Office of Police Accountability: a guaranteed budget and authority to hire independent counsel, City Hall sources said Thursday.

“Those seem to be the final sticking points. The next two pieces will be worked out in the next week or so. If we can compromise on those two points, everybody is going to be happy,” said a top mayoral aide, who asked not to be named.

“We’ll be able to find a compromise. . . . This is not the final product. COPA will have the resources to do the job. It’ll be more than what IPRA gets now.”

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, acknowledged that Emanuel is “trying to work out a formula” for funding the agency that will take the place of the Independent Police Review Authority in a way that “makes it acceptable to people.”

But it’s not as easy as it seems.

“It’s silly to set a percent of the budget until you know how many people there will be and the backgrounds they bring to their jobs. It’s putting the cart before the horse. It really should be done as part of the budget process,” O’Connor said.

The outside counsel demand is likely to be solved by “pre-qualifying” law firms with expertise in conducting police investigations, O’Connor said. That way, the Law Department can keep hands off.

Top mayoral aides signaled their willingness to compromise on the two biggest sticking points as Emanuel picked up support from a somewhat surprising source.

Police Board President Lori Lightfoot credited Emanuel with “transforming” his ordinance in recent months in response to “voices in the community” who have been meeting with top mayoral aides behind the scenes.

Changes made since May 13, when Emanuel first agreed to abolish IPRA, include significant sanctions for obstructing COPA investigations; housing the new deputy inspector general for public safety within the inspector general’s office; and prohibiting former police officers and prosecutors from serving as chief administrator of COPA within five years of leaving their old jobs.

“That is a sea change for which the mayor and his people deserve credit,” Lightfoot said Thursday.

“Anyone who is saying that the progress made and the ordinance revealed to the public is a recipe for disaster grossly overstates the issues. Of course, it’s not perfect. It’s never going to be perfect. But the draft ordinance is what progress looks like, and we cannot underestimate that.”

University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman has branded the mayor’s ordinance a “recipe for failure” because it is not truly independent from City Hall.

With an expanded annual caseload that now includes false arrests, illegal searches, denials of counsel and other constitutional complaints, Futterman has argued that COPA needs a “floor of at least 1.5 percent” of the Chicago Police Department’s annual budget.

Lightfoot agreed that authority to hire outside counsel and a guaranteed budget are essential so the new COPA chief and deputy IG for public safety “don’t have to ask, `Mother, may I?'”

But she said Futterman’s demand for 1.5 percent of the police department’s budget “makes no sense whatsoever” and was “rejected” by the Task Force on Police Accountability.

“That would put the COPA budget at $18 million. That’s a larger budget by a fair number of dimensions than New York City’s version with oversight over a police department more than twice the size of Chicago. That doesn’t make any sense,” Lightfoot said.

“Yes, both entities should have sufficient resources to make sure they do their jobs and do them well. But it has to be grounded in best practices. It’s got to be a number that’s actually doable.”

Lightfoot’s praise is somewhat surprising.

She co-chaired the mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability that characterized IPRA as so “badly broken” it needed to be disbanded, forcing Emanuel’s hand. 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.

She condemned the first round of City Council hearings on the mayor’s plan as a “sham” because they were held in the middle of the workday after a long holiday weekend.

Lightfoot also led the Police Board’s nationwide search for a new police superintendent, only to have Emanuel reject all three nominees and anoint Eddie Johnson, who hadn’t applied for the job.

No matter what compromises Emanuel makes, the Community Renewal Society is unlikely to be appeased.

On Thursday, the group held a news conference outside the mayor’s office to reiterate “non-negotiable” demands for 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.

“The mayor’s credibility in the black community and the Hispanic community is at an all-time low,” said the Rev. Larry Dowling, pastor of St. Agatha’s Church in North Lawndale.

“For there to be any credibility in this process, there needs to be that independence from the mayor.”