Chicago Mayor Creates Civilian Agency To Monitor Police

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, shown here in January, wants to create a new Civilian Office on Police Accountability to investigate police shootings, allegations of excessive force and other police misconduct.

Chicago's police superintendent took formal steps on Tuesday to fire five police officers involved in the shooting of Laquan McDonald. That same day, Mayor Rahm Emanuel quietly proposed long-awaited changes to how the city polices its police.

"The end goal is to have an independent entity that has oversight to make sure that there's integrity in the work that the police are doing," he said Tuesday evening on WTTW's Chicago Tonight program. The bottom line, he said, is "that people regain the trust they have in the Chicago Police Department and that trust is an essential foundational piece to public safety."

Emanuel wants to create a new Civilian Office on Police Accountability to investigate police shootings, allegations of excessive force and other police misconduct.

Those tasks are now done by the Independent Police Review Authority.

Critics say since its inception in 2007, IPRA has often conducted superficial investigations that would take years. It rarely found police officers at fault, and in the tiny fraction of incidents it did, the agency recommended light punishment.

Emanuel promises the new Civilian Office on Police Accountability will be more thorough, and he insists it will be truly independent.

"One of the big changes here is you now have an inspector general who will be looking into their work. You never had that before," Emanuel said. "So somebody's actually keeping eyes on them and making sure their investigations were done appropriately."

Crista Noel has been organizing recent protests against the police. She isn't convinced the new agency will really be independent because it looks like it will still answer to city hall. "It's not going to be a good transformative ordinance unless you transform where the power truly is," Noel says.

University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman agrees. Futterman directs the law school's civil rights and police accountability project, and while he acknowledges there are some good accountability reforms being proposed he also argues that the mayor's proposal is flawed.

"It starts with independence and that begins with the budget," he says.

By that, he means the office's budget will still come from the mayor and his allies on the City Council.

"This ordinance would dramatically increase the caseload of this agency that investigates police misconduct and not provide it with a penny more than it already gets," Futterman says.

Lori Lightfoot chaired Emanuel's task force on police accountability, which made 126 recommendations in all. The mayor's proposal includes just two — albeit vital ones. She says there's certainly an urgent need for more reforms.

"It's extraordinarily important for everybody to get this right. We are in a historic time where the trust between the police and the community all over the city has been fundamentally broken," she says. "There have clearly been steps made in the right direction to try to restore that trust but we still [have] a long way to go."

Those poor police community relations are even further strained by a surge in gun violence. There have been more than 80 homicides in Chicago so far this month and more than 400 shootings, making August the bloodiest month here in nearly 20 years.

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