Emanuel backs off Sept. 14 vote, releases draft ordinance on COPA

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

Determined to rebuild public trust shattered by his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday he will not insist on a Sept. 14 vote on his proposal to abolish the Independent Police Review Authority and replace it with a new system of police accountability.

“I’m not gonna allow two weeks to be a stumbling block because we have built up a lot of good will and a lot of trust with each other. The ultimate goal we all share is to have an accountability system in place that has the integrity that everybody trusts and can rely on,” Emanuel said at an unrelated news conference outside Union Station.

“We have had a long good process to get to this product. . . . Even people that normally aren’t complimentary of my work acknowledged that the product is a good foundation and their voices have been heard. I do not want to do anything that would violate that trust.”

Aldermen have demanded a few more weeks to examine and debate the 22-page ordinance creating a new police oversight agency, which the mayor released a draft of Tuesday evening.

The ordinance would replace IPRA with the Civilian Office on Police Accountability, known as COPA, and create an inspector general for public safety chosen by Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

Emanuel said Tuesday said he’s willing to give them that time. But he made it clear that he’s not about to wait forever.

Here are several differences that separate COPA from its predecessor, IPRA.

The draft ordinance prohibits whoever heads COPA from being a current or former sworn employee of the Police Department.

In addition, anyone who worked as a non-sworn employee of the Police Department or an employee of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office must be five years removed from their job to head the agency. No such job restrictions were in place for the IPRA chief.

Unlike IPRA, COPA will be able to investigate Fourth Amendment violations, such as illegal searches and seizures. Currently, the police department’s bureau of internal affairs runs such probes.

The ordinance also calls for the current IPRA chief, Sharon Fairley, to work as the first acting head of COPA.

Fairley has warned that her staff was “starting to dip below critical mass” because the uncertain future has triggered an exodus.

Fairley has warned City Hall several times in emails this month that employees have been jumping ship from IPRA, including “shooting specialists” responsible for investigations of officer-involved deaths. On Aug. 11, she said IPRA was down to six such specialists, according to an email obtained through an open-records request.

In an Aug. 2 letter to Emanuel, she wrote: “Having lived with this uncertain future for several months now, our staff members are, at best, distracted, and at worst, demoralized and disgruntled.” She added, “We must come up with some creative solutions to ensure that the agency can maintain its operations with at least some degree of quality while the new agency is being stood up.”

Fairley is expected to stay on to run COPA until a civilian oversight board — that has not yet been debated, much less chosen and seated — can pick her permanent replacement.

“IPRA is losing staff because of uncertainty. Officers don’t have certainty around their job about the oversight. So, while I want to give aldermen and community time, I want us all to be conscious of that,” the mayor said.

“A few weeks is not the end of the world. [But] I want to be conscious of that equity against the equity that both the community, the public as a whole and our police officers and the staff over at the accountability offices have certainty about their future because they are losing staff who are not sure about that future. And those are the people you’re gonna rely on to do the investigation.”

Emanuel refused to engage in a public debate about the points of contention.

The City Council’s Progressive Caucus has demanded that COPA have a guaranteed percentage of the city budget to prevent its new chief from going hat-in-hand to the mayor and City Council for additional resources.

They also want Ferguson to have additional resources to fund his new deputy for public safety beyond the .01 percent of the overall city budget he already gets.

The Progressive Caucus has further demanded that COPA have the authority to hire its own independent counsel, instead of relying on a city Law Department that represents the mayor, defends police officers and negotiates the police contract.

“I’m not gonna negotiate like that. I think it would erode the good will and the trust that’s been established,” the mayor said.

“We’re gonna listen to each other. Certain things we’ll agree on. Certain things we won’t. On the other hand, we’re gonna try to hear each other out and try to make accommodations to better serve the police officers and the public that relies on this organization.”

The mayor was asked why he’s forging ahead with replacing IPRA and appointing an inspector general to oversee public safety but putting the brakes on a civilian oversight board that would choose the new COPA chief.

“You’re way ahead. A lot of people thought that was too big of an issue and wanted to have hearings later,” the mayor said, refusing to say whether he would reserve the right to appoint a majority on that civilian oversight board.

Zoning Committee Chairman Danny Solis (25th), one of Emanuel’s most powerful City Council allies, said the mayor is wise to revise his original plan to hold a committee vote on Sept. 13 and a full Council vote the following day.

“I want to make sure that everybody’s been briefed, everybody can see the logic of it and we’ve got more people bought into it as opposed to pushing it — ramming it through,” Solis said Tuesday.

Contributing: Mitch Dudek and Frank Main

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