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IT firm to oversee cop investigation training at ‘COPA Academy’

IPRA chief Sharon Fairley (pictured in January 2016) said Independent Police Review Authority investigators would be free to apply for jobs at the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and she anticipates hiring many of them. | Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has awarded a $200,000 contract to a Chicago information technology firm to preside over “COPA Academy”: the seven-week training of more than 120 investigators and legal staffers for Chicago’s new Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Carminati Consulting was chosen to oversee the intensified training amid word that there has been no shortage of applicants for jobs at the oversight agency that will replace the discredited and soon-to-be abolished Independent Police Review Authority.

IPRA has received 325 applicants for 15 open positions as supervising investigator; 262 applicants for 15 major case specialist vacancies; and a whopping 918 applications for 60 positions as investigators, according to the agency’s annual report. It was not known how many of the applicants were current IPRA employees.

IPRA chief Sharon Fairley has said IPRA investigators would be free to apply for jobs at COPA and that she anticipates hiring many of them.

Fairley will serve as COPA’s interim chief because Emanuel has postponed indefinitely the appointment of a civilian oversight board that will choose the new agency’s permanent chief.

Three months ago, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that COPA’s expanded staff would be required to undergo weeks of “classroom and hands-on” training, followed by tests, to qualify for their jobs.

According to a request for proposals that culminated in the selection of Carminati, 103 investigators and 19 legal staffers will be required to undergo at least 171 hours of training. That will cover everything from complaint intake, interviewing techniques and forensic and DNA analysis to affidavit requests and overrides and “effective case and time management.”

Even more extensive is the training that investigators and legal staffers will receive in Chicago Police Department rules, regulations and procedures.

The RFP outlined four to eight hours of classroom and hands-on training on each of the following topics: use of force; Taser and control devices; vehicle pursuit; crisis intervention training; de-escalation and equipment, including body and dashboard cameras.

All of that is in addition to one week of more general training on the “vision and culture” of the new agency for all 140 of COPA’s full-time employees.

Carminati will provide that training, with the “majority of the content created by subject matter experts coordinated and secured” by the company. The first training class is expected to begin in mid-April. COPA is expected to be up and running no later than Sept. 30.

“Based on their experience providing professional development, training coordination and learning management systems implementation, we believe Carminati along with their partner The William Everett Group, will provide the high-quality training coordination we need to effectively ensure the long term sustainability of the COPA training framework,” IPRA spokeswoman Mia Sissac wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

“We are familiar with their level of professionalism as we currently work with them on IT infrastructure planning for COPA,” she said. “We are confident that, with their combined technological and training experience in both the private and public sectors, we will be able to leverage tech platforms and create a sophisticated training tracking system as well as online in-service training for COPA employees.”

Carminati officials could not be reached for comment.

On its website, Carminati Consulting decribes itself as an “innovative IT consulting firm” that offers “technology solutions, IT management strategy, data analytics, web design, user training and system adoption.”

“Our consulting team is planning and managing IPRA’s technology transition as the organization moves to a civilian-led agency COPA,” the website states.

Emanuel installed Fairley as head of IPRA in December 2015 in the unrelenting furor that followed the court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

Fairley has already announced the hiring of Thomas Kim, who was the head investigator for the New York agency that looks into allegations of police misconduct. Kim will become the No. 2 official at COPA in charge of the agency’s investigative staff.

The Fraternal Order of Police and its City Council allies opposed Emanuel’s plan to replace IPRA with COPA because they were afraid the new agency would be stacked against rank-and-file officers. The extensive training in police organization, general orders and techniques could help ease those fears.

Other elements of the training could allay the concerns of police reform advocates, who fear that the change from IPRA to COPA could be a change in name only.

Fairley, whose demoralized investigative staff dwindled down to 44 people, has expressed confidence that the guaranteed budget approved by the City Council — 1 percent of the Chicago Police Department’s budget, not including grant funding — would pave the way for a dramatic reduction in the caseload handled by individual investigators.

Advocates have complained that the $8.4 million IPRA budget virtually guarantees that investigations of police wrongdoing will drag on for months or even years.

COPA’s budget will now be “closer to $17 million,” Fairley has said. The influx of resources is particularly important, considering the fact that COPA will inherit an expanded annual caseload tied to its broader powers to investigate false arrests, illegal searches, denials of counsel and other constitutional complaints.