At Issue: After IPRA

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has backed three key recommendations from his Police Accountability Task Force — replacing the Independent Police Review Authority and establishing a Community Safety Oversight Board and an Inspector General for Public Safety — but many questions remain.

PATF issued a detailed series of recommendations for a new set of agencies along with a set of goals: fundamental reform is needed “in order to remove impediments to bringing complaints, identifying troubling behavior, investigating misconduct, intervening and when necessary imposing discipline,” according to its report, issued last month.

“The devil will be in the details,” Lori Lightfoot, president of the Chicago Police Board and chair of PATF, told the Chicago Tribune. “A fundamentally important question” is how the new civilian investigative agency backed by Emanuel will differ from IPRA, she said.

A big part of that is whether Mayor Emanuel will cede power — including the power to appoint top administrators and the kind of influence over investigations that was revealed in e-mails released earlier this year on the handling on the Laquan McDonald case.

“Some of [PATF’s] recommendations are counter to Emanuel’s instinct for tight control,” the Tribune editorialized last month. “We urge him to embrace them anyway.”

Key issue: Independence: Three questions will help determine the independence — and the credibility — of a new investigative agency: how its director is chosen, whether it’s guaranteed a sufficient budget and staff insulated from the political process, and how its investigators are shielded from conflicts of interest.

Three proposals for replacing IPRA — PATF’s recommendations, an ordinance introduced by Ald. Leslie Hairston, and another backed by a coalition of police accountability groups — address those questions in different ways.

PATF’s report calls for the chief administrator of a new Civilian Police Investigative Agency to be selected by a new Community Safety Oversight Board; a variety of methods for selecting the oversight board are discussed, though the report argues against mayoral appointment or elections.

Under Hairston’s ordinance, a selection committee appointed by the Chicago Inspector General and representing diverse communities (along with the mayor and police superintendent or their designees) would select the chief administrator of a new Independent Citizen Police Monitor, subject to approval by the City Council.

Under the third proposal, backed by a coalition of community groups, an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council would replace IPRA and the Police Board. Each of its 22 members would represent one of the city’s police districts. CPAC would appoint the police superintendent and approve the department’s budget (more below).

Resources and staff: Hairston’s ordinance guarantees substantially more resources to the independent monitor than does PATF’s proposal: PATF recommends establishing by ordinance a budget equivalent to 1 percent of CPD’s budget or staffing levels of one investigator for each 250 police officers; Hairston would require 1.5 percent and a staffing level of 1 investigator per 100 officers.

That would amount to about $20 million — two-and-a-half times IPRA’s current budget, said Craig Futterman of the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Chicago, who helped draft the Hairston ordinance.

“Looking at best practices across the country, that was the minimum necessary to do the job,” he said. Insufficient staff and budget was one issue that crippled IPRA, he added.

Futterman pointed out that both Hairston’s ordinance and the PATF proposal expand the new agency’s jurisdiction, charging it with investigating illegal searches and seizures, false arrests, and denial of counsel, all currently investigated by CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs (the Hairston ordinance also includes charges of rape and sexual abuse). Both proposals also charge the new agency with investigating misconduct allegations arising out of lawsuits, media accounts, and other incidents without sworn complaints from civilians.

In addition, Hairston’s ordinance requires the new agency to investigate and analyze patterns of abuse. Currently, as a matter of policy, IPRA chooses not to do so, and it’s one of the ways the agency violates standard investigative norms, Futterman said.

Mandating patterns investigations will also require additional staff resources, he said.

PATF’s proposal and Hairston’s ordinance would both ban former employees of CPD and the State’s Attorney from serving as investigators.

Key issue: Transparency: On transparency, the Hairston ordinance also goes beyond the PATF recommendations. While the PATF report nods at other cities where residents can track their complaints online, it recommends only that summary reports of completed investigations and quarterly reports be posted. Hairston would require civilian complaints to be posted within ten days, with information on the investigation updated on an ongoing basis.

Hairston would also require videos, 911 tapes and other material to be posted within 48 hours unless it would compromise an investigation, but in all circumstances within two weeks. PATF issued a preliminary recommendation in February, which Emanuel immediately adopted, requiring posting of videos and other materials within 60 days, with a one-time 30-day extension available to law enforcement agencies.

The new policy was slammed by First Amendment advocates, Mark Konkol reported at DNAinfo. “Emanuel’s quick decision to back a plan to keep police videos secret for up to 90 days already has some people saying his trust-building campaign is starting off on the wrong foot,” Konkol noted, adding that the new policy “does little more than limit the amount of time the code of silence has to operate.”

Alternative: Community control: An ordinance backed by a large coalition of community groups spearheaded by the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, represents the longstanding demand for community control of police. It would create an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council which would appoint the police superintendent, approve the police department’s budget, adopt rules and regulations for the department, hire investigative staff, review and sign off on all complaint investigations, and negotiate contracts with police unions.

“Police crimes will continue until the City Council puts the power to control all aspects of police policy and practice into the hands of the people” through the CPAC ordinance, said Frank Chapman of the Chicago Alliance.

CPAC supporters have collected 32,000 signatures on a petition backing the ordinance, organizers said. Several aldermen have agreed to sponsor the ordinance, which will be introduced in coming weeks, they said.

CPAC has called for a demonstration at City Hall for the morning of June 22, before the City Council session where Emanuel has said he will introduce his ordinance.

Up next: Mayor Emanuel has said that Ald. Ariel Reboyras, chair of the City Council’s public safety committee, and Ald. Willie B. Cochrane, a former police officer, “are committed to working with our office and leading the council on drafting an ordinance.” There was no acknowledgement of Hairston’s ordinance, which is sponsored by 32 of the Council’s 50 members, or of a proposal by Ald. Jason Ervin establishing an inspector general for public safety.

The Sun Times reported last week that mayoral aides were meeting with aldermen to discuss the issues.

That’s how legislation is generally moved in the City Council, with the mayor’s office taking the lead. It’s very different from what the PATF report envisioned, discussing the community oversight board which would select the head of a new investigative agency.

The PATF report argues that in order to ensure “legitimacy” for the new board, “its precise powers and makeup…should be developed with broad public input.” The task force calls on the mayor and City Council to “hold full and robust public hearings and fully vet the design and implementation of this critical body.”