Aldermen are hearing testimony from experts and community members Tuesday afternoon on the mayor’s police accountability ordinance. The proposal is expected to go up for a committee vote later today. Check back with Progress Illinois as this story develops.
Chicago aldermen are holding a hearing Tuesday afternoon on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s police accountability overhaul.
The hearing, held by the joint budget and public safety committee, began shortly after noon. Community members have yet to testify as of 2:45 p.m. Chicago’s corporation counsel and the Independent Police Review Authority’s chief have fielded aldermen’s questions for much of the hearing thus far.
At issue is Emanuel’s ordinance to replace IPRA, which investigates police-involved shootings, with a Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA).
COPA would investigate police shootings, Taser usage and other incidents. Under the ordinance, COPA is prohibited from hiring investigators who have served as sworn police officers in the past five years.
Additionally, the mayor’s plan would create a new public safety deputy within the city’s inspector general’s office.
COPA’s budget would be fixed at a minimum of 1 percent of the city’s police budget. That works out to be a $14 million budget for COPA — about $2.1 million more than IPRA’s budget. The IG office’s minimum guaranteed budget would also increase to .14 percent of the city’s overall budget, up from one-tenth of 1 percent, for its new public safety deputy.
COPA would also have the ability to seek outside counsel from a minimum of five different law firms that have been vetted by the city’s law department.
The provisions involving funding and outside counsel were among recent changes made to the ordinance in an effort to appease its critics.
Chicago’s Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton called the ordinance “carefully considered” and one that represents a “good-faith attempt” to reach a compromise and not “put a thumb on the scale in favor of the plaintiff or an accused police officer.”
Patton said a City Council resolution will be introduced Wednesday detailing the city’s commitment to creating the third component of the mayor’s police reform overhaul — a Community Safety Oversight Board. The goal is to introduce an ordinance to create the board within the first quarter of 2017 after a community engagement process, Patton said.
Community members, police accountability experts, and aldermen spoke out ahead of the hearing to express their concerns over the mayor’s proposal.
Despite recent revisions to Emanuel’s ordinance, University of Chicago Law School professor Craig Futterman, founder of the Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project, said the plan remains “fundamentally flawed” and lacks sufficient independence, transparency and community involvement.
“Nothing in this ordinance provides any more transparency than IPRA has,” he said.
The proposed budget for COPA is at least $9 million short of what Futterman said is necessary for the agency. Futterman also took issue with letting the city’s law department recommend a list of law firms for COPA’s outside counsel.
“You can’t have the same lawyers who represent the police officers in civil rights cases selecting who represents the agency who’s supposed to independently look at the police,” he said.
Chicago Alds. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Jason Ervin (28th) have proposed a police accountability reform plan that includes key components of separate proposals they have introduced.
Hairston has proposed replacing IPRA with a new “independent citizen police monitor.” And Ervin is the lead sponsor of the FAIR Cops ordinance, which would establish a police auditor within the IG’s office to investigate police brutality claims.
The Rainbow PUSH Coalition, NAACP and the Community Renewal Society are among the groups backing Ervin and Hairston’s proposal.
“It amazes me in society today that we would be trying to pass an ordinance over the objection of the NAACP, over the objection of the Rainbow PUSH [Coalition], over the objection of ministers in our city, over the objection of numerous community groups,” Ervin stressed before today’s hearing.
Ervin and Hairston demanded that the City Council hold hearings specifically on their police reform plan and other pending alternatives to COPA.
“It’s unfortunate that there’s only one voice being heard,” Hairston told reporters. “It’s unfortunate that serious consideration isn’t being given to credible ordinances that actually would include Chicago citizens as a reviewing authority.”
Supporters of a Civilian Police Accountability Council also criticized the council for not taking up their proposed ordinance, which would establish an elected, civilian-led council to investigate and prosecute claims of Chicago police crimes. Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who introduced the ordinance in July, said CPAC has broad community support.
“CPAC doesn’t simply seek to replace IPRA with a new iteration of that agency, CPAC seeks to replace IPRA, the Police Board and our broken method of police accountability and oversight with a democratically elected body,” he said.
Ramirez-Rosa called CPAC “a movement.” Aldermen who support the proposal “will continue to push for CPAC moving forward,” he said.
“We know that fixing IPRA is not enough,” Ramirez-Rosa stressed. “We know that we need a democratically elected body to bring about full community control of the police.”
Check back with Progress Illinois for updates on this developing story.
UPDATE (6:37 p.m.): The Chicago City Council’s joint budget and public safety committee approved the mayor’s police accountability ordinance by a 21-4 vote.
Alds. Leslie Hairston (5th), Chris Taliaferro (29th), Nicholas Sposato (38th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st) voted against the proposal.
The vote came after a public hearing that lasted over 6 hours.
The full Chicago City Council is expected to consider the ordinance at Wednesday’s meeting.