Ethics, integrity top of mind for residents as COPA launches search for next police oversight leader

Only about a handful of residents turned out Tuesday for the first public forum as the Civilian Office of Police Accountability searches for its next leader.

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Facilitators listen to and write down suggestions from residents Tuesday during a public forum at the Muslim Community Center at 4380 N. Elston Ave. in Old Irving Park, to receive feedback on the selection of the next chief administrator of COPA.

Facilitators listen to and write down suggestions from residents Tuesday during a public forum at the Muslim Community Center at 4380 N. Elston Ave. in Old Irving Park, to receive feedback on the selection of the next chief administrator of COPA.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Residents on the city’s Northwest Side say they want the next leader of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability to be ethical and have integrity.

A handful of residents turned out to the Muslim Community Center at 4380 N. Elston Ave. for the first of four public forums the police oversight agency is hosting as it continues its search for its next leader by the end of the year.

A seven-person committee has been tasked with finding the next chief administrator for COPA after Sydney Roberts, who had been appointed by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2018, resigned from the top post in May. The public forums are meant to help guide the committee as it sorts through candidates.

“The community has led the drive since Laquan McDonald and they should have a voice,” COPA spokesman Ephraim Eaddy said of the hiring process.

Amiin Davis, who works with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, said the next leader should have a “firmness of purpose,” later saying the person should be committed to the community rather than politics.

Other residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting said the leader should be unbiased, be knowledgable about constitutional law and want the job because of its mission, not the pay.

Suggestions were submitted Tuesday by residents during a public forum on the selection of the next chief administrator of COPA.

Suggestions were submitted Tuesday by residents during a public forum on the selection of the next chief administrator of COPA.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Crista Noel, from the Women’s All Points Bulletin, attended the meeting and stressed that the next leader should have a background in human rights and be open.

“I’ve always found it easier to work with a manager who has an open-door policy,” Noel said to the group.

Residents also issued recommendations for what the agency should do as part of its role of police oversight.

Davis said he would like to see COPA involved in the hiring process to ensure people who get selected to become officers are ethically and psychologically fit to serve. He also stressed that investigations into police shootings need to hold more officers accountable, pointing out that not every officer who was involved in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was held accountable.

“If community trust is the objective and goal, many members of the community see those officers who don’t get arrested as evidence that there is no trust at all,” said Davis, who was also part of a coalition that has pushed for greater community-led police oversight.

Amiin Davis picks up his book during a public forum Thursday in Old Irving Park.

Amiin Davis picks up his book during a public forum Thursday in Old Irving Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Sarah Chowdhury, who co-chairs the racial justice coalition of the Chicago Bar Association, said it will be important for the next leader to understand criminal procedure to pinpoint why and how issues are taking place within the police force.

“Police are supposed to be who we trust, but if we can’t trust people to be accountable and hold themselves accountable to say I’ve overstepped my bounds or I’m not fit to be out in the field today, then we can’t really trust them to protect us,” Chowdhury said.

Ephraim Eaddy, spokesman for the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, speaks during a public forum Tuesday.

Ephraim Eaddy, spokesman for the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, speaks during a public forum Tuesday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

She said she and other attorneys she knows have been working with grassroots organizations in communities that have been over policed. Chowdhury said that on the way to Tuesday’s event, she got a call from a friend who had been playing frisbee at a park before police told the person to leave.

“These are all issues to my community that it might not be criminal, but they are still issues that have to do with how police interact with our communities,” Chowdhury said.

The search for the top leader comes after the City Council recently approved a new civilian police oversight ordinance, which could impact the future of COPA’s leader. The ordinance would allow a seven-member commission to take a vote of no-confidence for the chief administrator of COPA.

That would then trigger a vote by the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety within 14 days, and then a full City Council vote. If two-thirds of aldermen agree with the no-confidence vote, that would lead to the removal of the chief administrator.

The next COPA forum is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Garfield Park Golden Dome Field House, 100 N. Central Park Ave.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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