PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday August 17th, 2016, 4:23pm

Policy Experts On Police Accountability: 'The People Of Chicago Deserve Better'

Policy experts testified at a Chicago City Council hearing Wednesday on overhauling police accountability and oversight, saying "legitimacy" must be regained in whatever new police reform structure the city decides to implement.

As Chicago aldermen weigh proposals to overhaul police accountability and oversight in the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting, policy experts who testified at City Hall Wednesday stressed that the new accountability system must have "legitimacy."

"For most communities in Chicago, especially communities of color, legitimacy is gone," Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project, said at the Chicago City Council's thinly attended subject matter hearing on police reform.

"The common theme here is to find a way to recreate the accountability structure in such a way that it will start to offer and rebuild that legitimacy, police accountability and transparency," he said. 

Wednesday's subject matter hearing was convened in addition to the series of police reform town hall meetings being held in communities across Chicago this month to gather public testimony. 

The hearings come as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel looks to replace the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), which investigates police-involved shootings, with a new civilian investigative agency and create a new Public Safety Auditor.

A mayor-backed police reform ordinance is expected to be introduced next month.

"There are a number of proposals and we're taking testimony both from the community and experts to better evaluate what to put together as part of the legislation," Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), chair of the City Council's Police Accountability Subcommittee, said after the hearing. 

For their part, aldermen have thus far introduced three police reform ordinances.

One proposal from Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) would replace IPRA with a new Independent Citizen Police Monitor tasked with investigating allegations of police misconduct.

The so-called FAIR Cops ordinance, introduced by Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and backed by the Community Renewal Society, is also pending in the City Council. Under the proposal, a deputy inspector general of police oversight would be established within the city Inspector General's Office to investigate police brutality claims.

The third plan is from Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. It would create an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) in the city. The civilian-led agency would investigate and prosecute claims of Chicago police crimes.

CPAC supporters have showed up in force at police accountability protests and hearings in the city.

"The time has come when mayoral appointments are a thing of the past in the city of Chicago when it comes to police oversight," CPAC proponent Mike Siviwe Elliott said at today's hearing. "Without community control of the police, nothing legitimate can hold the police accountable."

Speaking generally about police accountability policies, Siska said research suggests that "civilian review has significant issues." 

"Civilian review across the country has never really come out to be what communities and professionals want," he said. 

That, however, "doesn't mean we shouldn't try," Siska continued. "But it means we need to make sure that we stay in front of the curve as far as creating this system. And right now the best system for delivering accountability is going toward the police auditor model."

University of Chicago Law School professor Craig Futterman, founder of the Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project, also backed the idea of creating an independent police auditor.

Another key focus of Futterman's testimony was the Independent Citizen Police Monitor.

Under the police monitor ordinance, an 11-person panel of community and government representatives would select the top official for the new police monitor's office.

Central to the plan is empowering the monitor's office to conduct rigorous investigations and providing the agency with annual funding equal to 1.5 percent of the Chicago Police Department's budget. To put that figure into context, the city appropriated $1.4 billion this year for the CPD budget and $8.5 million for IPRA.

Futterman said there is "no doubt that IPRA does need to be abolished."

"It lacks any credibility in the community," he said.

IPRA chief Sharon Fairley and her leadership team "may be the ideal folks to lead a new agency," Futterman said, "but that's something that ultimately needs to be decided by the people of Chicago."

Regardless of what system gets adopted, Futterman stressed that the city "can't operate how we've operated in years past."

"We've allowed for far too long the underlying problems and conditions -- and these are conditions of racism, these are conditions of a code of silence and a lack of accountability -- that have allowed the minority police officers to abuse the most vulnerable among us," he said. "The people of Chicago deserve better and need better, and so do the police officers."

The next subject matter hearing on police accountability and oversight is scheduled for August 24 at 10 a.m. in the Chicago City Council chambers.

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