Mayor’s police accountability proposals face criticism in City Hall

CHICAGO – Mayor Emanuel’s plan to replace the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) today faced its first public hearings before two committees Tuesday in City Hall.

Calls for change came amid a national conversation about police accountability, and after the release of videos showing the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald sparked protests across Chicago.

The Mayor says COPA will have more authority to investigate serious incidents and will make recommendations for discipline, including abuse of force and officer-involved shootings, cases of alleged illegal search and seizure, and other claims of police misconduct. The body would also suggest changes to the police department's practices and policies.

But the proposed ordinance is not good enough or strong enough for a sizeable number of aldermen.  Critics complain the office won't have a fixed minimum budget, meaning the mayor or council could gut the agency's power through budget cuts. They also want the office to hire its own attorneys instead of using city lawyers who already defend police accused of wrongdoing in civil cases.

“The two points of contention are what the budget is going to be, and whether the outside counsel is truly going to be independent,” said Ald. Ricardo Munoz. “It is the corporation counsel's responsibility to represent the city, the police officers, and also IPRA, so that is an inherent conflict of interest.”

If those changes aren't made, Ald. Leslie Hairston said she’s prepared to offer up an alternative ordinance. Otherwise, she says COPA will be just another version of IPRA and its predecessor, the Office of Professional Standards.

“They need their own independent counsel,” Hairston said.

Aldermen are expected to hold one more hearing before voting on the new agency Sept. 29th.