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Measured reactions to Rahm’s call for new police review agency

Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Rich Hein / Sun-Times file photo

Next month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to present the Chicago City Council with plans for a new, civilian-run agency to investigate allegations of police misconduct, and police accountability experts say they cannot wait to see the details.

In an opinion piece published Saturday in the Chicago Sun-Times, Emanuel outlined in broad strokes his proposal for an agency to replace the Independent Police Review Authority, which had been maligned by community activists and the mayor’s own Police Accountability Task Force. Emanuel said he would submit a detailed proposal to the council by June 22, and council members Aldermen Leslie Hairston (5th) and Jason Ervin (28th) have submitted legislation for new police oversight agency.

IPRA was created to monitor police less than a decade ago by then Mayor Richard M. Daley in the wake of scandals that included systemic torture of crime suspects by detectives working under Cmdr. Jon Burge and the drunken beating by Officer Anthony Abbate’s of a female bartender.

But the nominally civilian-run agency seemed to be a place where complaints about officer abuses were sent to die, said Jamie Kalven, an independent journalist who has reviewed hundreds of IPRA case files.

Kalven, who gained national prominence for exposing the “16 shots” police killing of 17-year-0ld Laquan McDonald, said Saturday that IPRA was scarcely better than the agency that preceded it. He noted that the agency seldom recommended any punishment for officers accused of wrongdoing — if investigators made definitive findings at all. In more than 400 investigations of police-involved shootings since the agency was created, IPRA recommended disciplinary action only twice.

“The track record was such that neither the citizenry or the police force had any confidence that a complaint would result in any meaningful action,” he said. “The cops may not have known the actual statistics, but they knew they had impunity, that there was very little chance of them facing any consequences.”

Kalven lauded the three main features Emanuel promised would be in his proposal for a successor to IPRA: a more independent, civilian-staffed agency; a public safety inspector general post to monitor the department; and additional supervision from a Community Safety Oversight Board.

“Some really promising ingredients have been proposed,” Kalven said. “Now, there needs to be an open legislative process that comes up with the best possible recipe.”

The decision to ax IPRA and even the name Community Safety Oversight Board were taken from a blistering report from the mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force last month. Task force chairwoman Lori Lightfoot said Saturday she hopes Emanuel’s plans will also include other suggestions from the panel.

The task force also recommended assuring more independence for IPRA’s successor by setting aside dedicated funding for misconduct investigators and allowing the agency to perform their own investigations, rather than rely on detectives to gather information and evidence.

“I think the mayor’s statements were an important step, but we have got to know the details still,” Lightfoot said. “This is a process that has to move thoughtfully and carefully rather than just quickly. Quickly is what got us to where we are now.”