Emanuel accused of reneging on funding commitment to COPA

SHARE Emanuel accused of reneging on funding commitment to COPA

Retired Judge Patricia Banks, interim chief administrator of the newly created Civilian Office of Police Accountability, greets Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) Wednesday after testifying at City Council budget hearings. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was accused Wednesday of reneging on his promise to give the Civilian Office of Police Accountability a guaranteed budget of one percent of Chicago Police Department spending — not including grant funding — to ensure COPA’s independence.

Aldermen made the charge while questioning retired Judge Patricia Banks — on the job as COPA’s interim chief administrator only a few weeks.

They pointed to the $1.5 billion budget for the Chicago Police Department, compared to $13.3 million for COPA.

That’s $1.7 million short of the one percent that Emanuel promised to guarantee the independence of the new agency that replaced the now-abolished Independent Police Review Authority in investigating police shootings and other wrongdoing.

“You can go back up to the budget office and say, ‘My office is not adequately funded,’ based on the promises made last year and the votes that we took,” Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), chairman of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, told Banks. “This was not what we agreed to and that this has to change before we come back and vote on this budget.”

Banks countered that she is “able to hire the people we need right now” and “perform the operations we need to perform,” so “I’m not prepared to say that we are not adequately funded right now.”

But, she added: “As we grow and develop, in order to meet our need to speed up the process in terms of investigations and of course personnel, we’re going to need [more money]. And technology is going to require additional funding.”

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) was not appeased. He urged Banks to fight for the funding the mayor promised.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for what you are owed as a department because that difference … between what is owed by ordinance and what you’re operating with could be monumental for a budget of your size,” Lopez said.

“The amount that’s missing is basically what CPD spends on food, stationery, spare parts, travel and postage. … That can make or break your ability to carry out your mission effectively, to do it in a timely fashion and, more importantly, show the communities that we are serious about keeping our commitment to independence … and willing to truly put our money where our mouth is.”

Banks agreed to hold down the fort at COPA after Sharon Fairley left that agency and entered the crowded field to replace retiring four-term Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Emanuel has created a “Chief Administrator Selection Advisory Panel” — controlled by mayoral allies — to conduct a nationwide search for Fairley’s permanent replacement.

That also appears to be a retreat from the mayor’s original promise to let a civilian oversight board pick the new chief.

After the hearing, Banks was asked again whether she agrees with the aldermen who believe COPA was shortchanged in Emanuel’s budget.

“I can’t make that assessment right this minute. Time will tell. I’m sure the budget office will look at that,” she said.

Banks bristled at the suggestion that, by punting the funding questions, she was asking aldermen to carry the fight to the mayor’s office.

“I’m not asking anyone to do the battle for COPA. COPA can do its own battle. We’re an independent agency and we’ll remain independent and fight for the civilian population here,” she said. “I’m concerned that we, as an agency get our fair share of the budget allotment.”

Molly Poppe, a spokesperson for the city’s Office of Budget and Management, denied that Emanuel is reneging on his commitment to COPA.

“COPA’s 2018 budgeted expenses are $17.5 million, approximately 1.15 percent of the Police Department’s budgeted appropriation in 2018 for all local funds [corporate and enterprise funds] and in line with the commitment we made when we created COPA,” Poppe wrote in an email.

“The administration is not only fully committed to public safety reform, we have put real resources behind those reform efforts. The COPA 2018 budget represents a nearly 70 percent increase in positions from the previous oversight department. It also includes a nearly thirteen-fold increase in technology, case management software, legal services and other non-personnel expenses from the previous oversight department.”

The one percent funding floor was included to satisfy critics concerned that, so long as the mayor and City Council hold the purse strings, COPA would not be truly independent.

That guaranteed a dramatic increase from the $8.4 million IPRA budget police reform advocates had called so totally inadequate, it virtually guaranteed investigations of police wrongdoing would drag on for months or even years.

The increased budget is particularly important considering that COPA inherited an expanded annual caseload tied to its broader powers to investigate false arrests, illegal searches, denials of counsel and other constitutional complaints.

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