It may be out with the old when it comes to the city’s ability to properly investigate police misconduct, but many community stakeholders and elected officials are arguing that there’s not much that’s new about the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA).
During an Oct. 5 meeting, the City Council voted 39-8 in favor of adopting a plan that calls for replacing the controversial Independent Police Review Authority with COPA — an agency that city officials say will have more power than its predecessor to look into allegations of police abuse and police-involved shootings. The agency will also be empowered to make policy and procedural recommendations to the police department.
According to a recent Chicago Tribune report, the approved ordinance “will create a new post of deputy inspector general to audit the new police accountability system and identify patterns and practices that violate constitutional rights. That person will be picked by the inspector general, who is appointed by the mayor.”
The Tribune noted that the mayor, who had hoped to have IPRA’s replacement approved months ago, “agreed to changes, including a minimum funding level for the new police investigations agency and the new watchdog so the mayor or council cannot gut their power by reducing their budget.”
A citizen oversight board, responsible for helping to select COPA’s chief, has yet to really take shape and probably won’t be fully formed until next year, the Tribune noted, adding that questions have come up as to “how much control the new board will actually have.”
The response to COPA among elected officials and community leaders has ranged from downright denunciation to optimism that the new body is a first step toward broader police reforms.
DNAinfo Chicago reported last week that Ald. Leslie Hairston (10th), who voted against the measure, said that COPA represents the mayor’s all or nothing attitude to governance.
“Once again, it’s what the mayor wants or nothing,” Hairson said. “It’s not what the NAACP wants. It’s not what Rainbow PUSH wants. It’s not what the Community Renewal Society wants. And it’s not what many community organizations and activists want.”
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former police officer and the only West Side alderman to oppose the measure, said during an Oct. 4 joint Budget and Public Safety Committee meeting that measure was rushed and did not change the status quo.
Karl Brinson, the president of the Chicago Westside Branch NAACP, said that “the demands of the community are not being met,” according to a DNAinfo report. Brinson also said that the process of creating COPA has been “a total insult to the people of Chicago” and that public input “has not been weighed heavily enough.”
West Side Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), who was a vocal opponent of the mayor’s plan before lending his support to it, referenced numerous concessions Emanuel’s office had made before last Wednesday’s vote.
According to a statement released by the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), COPA represents “a modest down payment on the urgent need for police reform and restoring the broken trust between the community and the police in Chicago.” The organization, however, refused to explicitly endorse the ordinance.
ACLU officials said they “welcomed” the change, but that “there’s more work to do.” The organization recommended that Chicago police “revitalize community policing” in the city and that city officials “recognize the role that police contracts play in limiting transparency and oversight.”
The ACLU also reinforced the mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability’s recommendation for the creation of a Community Safety Oversight Board. The entity would “require transparency from COPA and the police department, and […] serve as a resource to help direct Inspector General audits.”
The ACLU noted that community groups have urged that the ordinance passed by the City Council “include a provision requiring the City Council hold hearings when the Police Superintendent refuses to adopt a recommendation made by the Inspector General.”
The absence of that provision, the ACLU added, was why the organization did not endorse the ordinance.