Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday he plans to name an interim administrator to hold down the fort at the Civilian Office of Police Accountability until a civilian oversight board can choose a permanent chief.
Emanuel was moving on, one day after Sharon Fairley stunned police reformers — and created a political crisis for the mayor — by disclosing plans to resign to run for attorney general.
“Sharon has done a tremendous job in creating real strengths. It’s not depending just on her leadership. But she is a real leader,” the mayor said.
“We’re in a different place — not just by organization, but by culture, by professionalism, by funding — than we were before. I will be naming shortly an interim person. . . . And we’ll proceed from there. But the good news is because she dedicated herself over the last 18 or 22 months, we are in a stronger position. Stronger that it’s not dependent on one individual.”
The natural choice to replace Fairley on an interim basis is Walter Katz.
He’s the former independent police auditor for San Jose, California, who agreed to take a small pay cut to accept a job he called the “biggest policing challenge in America” as Emanuel’s $165,000-a-year deputy chief of staff for public safety.
Emanuel did not tip his hand on Fairley’s replacement. He would say only that he is determined not to miss a beat when it comes to building “the kind of professionalism we want to see for an independent authority to make sure that all aspects of our public safety are held accountable to the highest professional standards.”
And what about that elusive civilian review board the mayor promised more than a year ago?
“I’m gonna be naming a process working with a lot of different people,” he said. “I’ve had a number discussions with individuals about how to create a process that has input to have a set of names that reflect the independence and authority that we’ve built over the last 22 months.”
Fairley made her political aspirations known 10 days after a ceremonial kickoff at the South Shore Cultural Center.
It was a stunning blow for a newly created agency struggling to regain public trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.
At a time when COPA is attempting to prove that it’s a whole lot more than a name change from the widely discredited and now-abolished Independent Police Review Authority, there’s nobody at the top.
Fairley’s departure would be difficult enough if it were the only exit. But sources said COPA either has or will have vacancies in three other top jobs: first deputy, chief of investigations and general counsel.
Twenty-five of the 141 authorized full-time jobs also remain unfilled.
In addition, Fairley has yet to disclose the all-important results of the sweeping investigation she ordered in March 2016.
The law firm of McGuire Woods LLP was hired to perform an audit to determine whether IPRA’s investigations of past police shootings were conducted properly.
At the time, Fairley said she wasn’t interested in revisting all 400 shooting investigations conducted by IPRA. But she argued that “20 to 40” of them warranted a closer look, given the fact that all but two of those 400 cases had been ruled justified.
The review of past shooting investigations was supposed to take about six months. That was nearly a year ago.
Fairley did not return repeated phone calls. An aide to George Terwilliger III, the former deputy attorney general hired to lead the audit team, referred questions to COPA.
On the day he was hired, Terwilliger vowed to examine IPRA’s investigative process “from one end to the other, and assessing where it was strong, where it was weak and where it may need improvement.”
The Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability said it has spent more than a year “engaging residents across the city, particularly in neighborhoods where police-community relations is most strained.”
But the group said there is “still more work to do” before agreeing on a process to choose the civilian oversight board.
“We’re committed to doing it right — not doing it fast,” the group said in a statement.
In the meantime, the group urged Emanuel not to “repeat history by making hasty permanent decisions in response to problems that have taken decades to create.”
“In the interim, we believe the ideal candidate to replace Ms. Fairley must be someone with instant credibility, who knows the city’s political landscape and land mines, who has a stellar reputation and will be objective,” the group said without naming names.