Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to replace the Independent Police Review Authority with a Civilian Office of Police Accountability will be delayed yet again to craft a compromise on the two biggest complaints: a guaranteed budget and authority to hire independent counsel.
Emanuel has already delayed the new multi-tiered system of police accountability for months to accommodate demands for more public input at an unprecedented number of public hearings across the city.
He also called off a Sept. 13 City Council vote on the ordinance and postponed indefinitely plans to create a civilian review board that will choose a permanent COPA chief.
That will require IPRA administrator Sharon Fairley to hold down the fort in the interim.
On Wednesday, chairmen of the City Council’s Budget and Public Safety Committees called off plans to hold a special City Council meeting on Sept. 29 to approve the mayor’s plan.
Instead, Aldermen Carrie Austin (34th) and Ariel Reboyras (30th) disclosed plans to hold a joint committee meeting on Oct. 3 and a final vote at the City Council meeting on Oct. 5.
“Briefings on the revised language will be held next week. We believe this minor scheduling change will ensure that our colleagues have the time to review the reforms that will be considered for a vote in October,” Austin and Reboyras were quoted as saying in a press release.
Earlier this month, Corporation Counsel Steve Patton assured aldermen that COPA would not be “starved for resources,” but refused to be pinned down to a specific dollar amount or budget percentage.
Patton also assured aldermen that the agency that replaces the discredited and soon-to-be abolished IPRA would have authority to hire its own independent counsel.
The corporation counsel said then that the final language may well involve creating a “pool” of law firms with expertise conducting police investigations that are “pre-qualified” to “meet our standards.”
That way, a Law Department charged with defending police officers and negotiating the police contract can keep hands off.
Patton was less definitive about the unyielding demand that COPA have a guarantee budget instead of being forced to go hat in hand to the mayor and City Council.
“It’s important that there be an assurance that this new agency is not starved for resources — that there is some floor there to ensure that this critical function is not under-funded,” Patton said.
“The current ordinance doesn’t include a floor like that. There is a broad recognition that that is an element that needs to be addressed and we’re in the process of obtaining input and working on how that’s done.”
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, was not satisfied with Patton’s answer.
Not when COPA will inherit an expanded annual caseload that, under the mayor’s ordinance, will include false arrests, illegal searches, denials of counsel and other constitutional complaints.
Still, Patton refused to be pinned down.
“We’re looking at a new entity with increased responsibility and higher expectations. There’s a very robust process that I’m not a part of figuring out, who do you need, what new positions, what responsibilities and how much money is that gonna cost,” Patton said.
“On the guarantee, the assurance, the floor to ensure that this new entity is not starved for resources, I’m again gonna decline on a number. But, I would not be surprised if, where that ends up is being a percentage of some benchmark and one that provides the kind of assurance that folks are looking for.”
Police Board President Lori Lightfoot reminded aldermen on that day that the Task Force on Police Accountability she co-chaired recommended that COPA be guaranteed at least one percent of the Chicago Police Department’s budget.