Mayor’s police oversight changes go to full City Council vote

CHICAGO -- The Chicago City Council will vote on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to revamp the way the city handles officer-involved shootings and police misconduct allegations after it was approved by a joint session of the Committee on Budget and Government Operations and Committee on Public Safety on Tuesday.

The ordinance to create the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) will now face a full City Council vote on Wednesday.

"These changes are critical to our efforts to restore trust between the Chicago Police Department and the residents they are sworn to protect and serve," Emanuel said in a statement.

The ordinance creates a new agency to replace the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), which has been criticized for not completing investigations in a timely manner and nearly always siding with officers. The new agency would have broader powers to investigate officer misconduct allegations and would create a deputy inspector general position to audit department practices.

COPA is not without its vocal critics, including Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th Ward), who says it lacks substance and transparency and is just another flashy name for IPRA. Ald. Hairston has her own ordinance with Ald. John Ervin (28th Ward) that is not being heard at council. She said she will be voting "no" on COPA.

"This is not a dictatorship," Hairston said. “How we approach this, and how we are unified makes this the most important decision this City Council will have to deal with.”

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th ward) is on the fence.  In his ordinance, there’s an elected body to make decisions involving the police department.

“We’re talking about people that will run and be elected to represent the community and have control over the police,” said Ald. Ramirez-Rosa.

The change in agencies is tantamount to rebuilding community trust after years of failed IPRA investigations and after the video shooting of Laquan McDonald became public. The three biggest complaints of COPA were there was no guaranteed budget and no authority to hire independent counsel.  Plus, critics did not want former police officers serving as investigators and basically evaluating one of their own.

“I want to see the administration saying, ‘here’s some authority we’re gonna cede over to the civilian side and make sure that moving politics and the 5th floor away from some of the issues here,’” said Ald. John arena (45th ward).

The mayor has addressed these issues to the satisfaction of many aldermen, agreeing to give the office a guaranteed budget, allow it to hire an independent lawyer, and place a ban on former police officers serving as COPA investigators. Additionally, it was also announced that a resolution will be introduced in early 2017 to create a civilian oversight board that would make hires and watch over COPA.