World Business Chicago CEO Andrea Zopp vowed Monday to be an independent voice on the Police Board, in spite of her ties to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and easily won confirmation over the objections of a civil rights leader.
Zopp pointed to her work as a state and federal prosecutor who exonerated the Ford Heights Four and prosecuted drug kingpins, a corrupt former FBI agent, a police officer who shot an unarmed homeless man and a congressman accused of sexual abuse.
“My history of work on the topic of police accountability long preceded my even knowing who Rahm Emanuel was, much less working for him,” Zopp said.
“The only way the justice system works is if there’s trust. Trust comes from accountability….I have no questions about my independence. I have been an independent public board member. I was independent when I sat on the school board.”
Karl Brinson, president of the West Side branch of the NAACP, acknowledged that Zopp’s credentials are “impeccable” and that her record as a prosecutor and former president of the Chicago Urban League was “strong.” In fact, he hugged her after the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety unanimously approved Zopp’s appointment.
But Brinson argued that the “recycling” of mayoral allies to the board charged with disciplining wayward police officers is not the way to restore public trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald. Not after Chicago taxpayers have shelled out more than $500 million in settlements over the last decade to victims of police wrongdoing.
“How’s it looking like reform when we still have the same people sitting on these same boards. It’s like…we’re rotating it. Recycling. We can’t keep doing this. If we’re serious about reform in Chicago, we have to do better than this. We can’t continue to keep putting people in places without having the trust of our community and without having community input,” Brinson said.
“People are not anti-police. People want to be served. They want to be protected. They want to be respected. This is not a representation of our community when we’re just recycling appointments of people. This is not gonna work. This is not…building trust.”
Brinson pointed to the U.S. Justice Department’s scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department and to Emanuel’s promise to negotiate a consent decree with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan culminating in the appointment of a federal monitor to ride herd over CPD.
“That process is being stalled. It’s not even on a fast-track,” Brinson said.
Turning to aldermen, Brison said, “You’re not putting no action behind it. You’re not pressing the mayor. You want to fast-track appointments to the board. But you will not fast-track reform [or] the consent decree.”
Zopp spent eighteen months as Emanuel’s $185,000-a-year deputy mayor and chief neighborhood development officer before being appointed last month as the new, $375,000-a-year CEO of World Business Chicago.
Her appointment to the police board has been viewed by some as a way for the mayor to keep a closer eye on newly-reappointed Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, who has been outspoken in her criticism of Emanuel.
Ronald Safer is a former federal prosecutor who worked closely with Zopp during their days together in the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Safer argued that Zopp was the “gold standard for assistants in that office” and that those who question Zopp’s independence did not follow her prosecution of leaders of the Gangster Disciples street gang as first deputy Cook County state’s attorney.
“She was someone who took actions that her boss at the time probably was not in favor of because of the political ramifications. But she did it anyway because it was the right thing to do. She has done that at every stage of her career,” Safer said.
“No one who knows Andy has any doubt about her independence. She will do what is right, regardless of who agrees with her and who doesn’t.”
Safer noted that he did a two-year study on the process of disciplining Chicago Police officers that was highly critical of the way the Police board does business. His report recommended a host of reforms, some adopted some not.
“Nothing can bring this process forward more quickly than having people like Andy involved in it,” Safer said.
After the meeting, Zopp told reporters she intends to donate her $1,000-a-meeting stipend, possibly to the Urban League.
She also promised to go beyond disciplining police officers — by recommending changes in police policy to prevent wrongdoing from happening in the first place.