The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which replaced Independent Police Review Authority as an agency charged with investigating complaints against Chicago Police Department, is looking to spread the word about what it does and engage the West Side communities directly.
Ephraim Eaddy, COPA’s Director of Community Outreach and Engagement and an East Garfield Park native, attended Ald. Jason Ervin’s (28th) Oct. 10 Garfield Park community meeting at the Golden Dome fieldhouse, 100 N. Central Park.
Eaddy said the new agency is reaching out to let residents know what it does and to encourage them to submit complaints and positive comments about the police officers. The agency is planning larger community forums, where residents will be able to meet with COPA investigators and attorneys, in Austin and Garfield Park area. The agency hasn’t decided on exact dates.
COPA was created on Oct. 5, 2016. It was designed to be phased in over the next few months, replacing IPRA completely no later than Sept. 30, 2017. The process was officially competed on Sept. 15.
Like IPRA, it has the power to investigate complaints against CPD officers. But unlike its predecessor, COPA can investigate allegations of illegal search and seizure, as well as domestic violence complaints — both of which were previously investigated by CPD’s Internal Affairs. The agency was able to hire its own attorneys instead of relying on city attorneys the way CPD did. It also has the power to look for patterns of misconduct and make legally binding recommendations for addressing them.
To improve communications between COPA and the citizens, a Community Advisory Council was established. According to the agency’s website, the current CAC is made up of clergy members and community leaders from across the city, including Rev. Johnny Lee Miller, of East Garfield Park’s Mt Vernon Baptist Church, and Remel Terry, the 2nd Vice President of the Chicago Westside Branch NAACP.
During the Oct. 25, 2016 Chicago City Council budget hearing, Sharon Fairley, then-IPRA chief administrator and COPA’s transitional chief administrator, said that she expected most IPRA investigators to transfer to COPA. Eaddy told the residents at the community meetings that things didn’t quite pan out that way.
“Out of 141 positions we have, 23 people transferred from IPRA,” he said, explaining that COPA had higher qualifications, and only so many people were able to meet them. Eaddy emphasized that they weren’t just looking to investigate complaints against police officers. He said if officers do something right, they wanted to hear about it as well.
“It is our job to be fair and balanced,” he said. “We’re not out to get any officer.”
Residents can submit complaints and compliments by phone at (312) 743-COPA, by e-mail or in person at their offices, which are located at 1615 W. Chicago Ave., on the fourth floor.
If residents want to submit something online but don’t have a computer to do it, they can use Chicago Public Library computers.
The major part of making COPA work, Eaddy said, was educating people about what police officers can and cannot do, as well as what rights they have. To that end, he said, they are planning to hold COPA Community Nights. During COPA community nights, residents will be able to talk to agency staff directly.
“We feel like, if we can better inform [residents] about policy, you will be able to better compliment an officer for doing things right or making complaints for doing things wrong,” Eaddy said.
He mentioned that there will be a community night in Austin sometime next month and one in the Garfield Park area.
Eaddy also said the agency is planning to launch COPA Community Updates, which are online alerts notifying residents about incidents in their communities and any events the agency is holding in their area. To get the alerts, residents will be able to sign up online.
Eaddy encouraged all residents to give their feedback.
“We want to do our very best,” Eaddy said. “We want to be part of the process for building trust.”
Ervin said that, while there were issues that still had to be worked out, COPA was an improvement to what was there previously. I do believe where we are today is miles from where we were previously as far as the oversight is concerned.