Mayor to have too much power in new police plan

Experts, aldermen say new agency will not have enough independence

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Chicago Crusader staff report

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan for police accountability gives him too much power for his police oversight plan to remain independent, according to some aldermen and a police misconduct expert, who spoke at City Hall on Wednesday, August 31.

The officials were referring to Emanuel’s new Civilian Office on Police Accountability (COPA), an agency that will replace the beleaguered Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA).

It’s a new name but some officials have old concerns that the police oversight agency will still be in the hands of City Hall, which has come under fire since the Laquan McDonald scandal broke last November after a video was released showing Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting the 17-year-old 16 times in October 2014.

Officials are concerned that the new agency will not have a budget and must rely on the mayor, who can weaken COPA’s authority by slashing its financial resources. There is also concern that the agency cannot hire its own attorneys without the city’s law department.

The concerns came one day after Emanuel backed down on his plans to have the council vote on new police oversight agency at a September 14 council meeting. Facing political pressure, Rahm decided to give aldermen more time to review the proposed ordinance before they vote on it.

“If certain fundamental flaws aren’t addressed, it’s a recipe for failure, starting with independence,” said Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago Law School professor who has long studied police misconduct in the city. “For this new COPA agency to work, it has to be independent from the mayor and City Hall.”

Emanuel moved to replace IPRA after his own police accountability task force recommended that the agency be abolished as a part of an effort to rid Chicago’s police force of its racist history.

Under the proposal, the new inspector general in charge of public safety would be chosen by Inspector General Joe Ferguson as part of a nationwide search.

In addition to police shootings, COPA would also investigate cases where police use Tasers to subdue civilians. To serve on COPA, retired police officers and prosecutors would have to wait five years before applying as investigators with the agency. The police superintendent would have to wait 60 days to respond to the new agency’s recommendation to fire or suspend police officers accused of misconduct and other violations. The police superintendent could also exercise a 30-day suspension under the mayor’s plan.

 

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