June , 2018

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 By Curtis Black

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has agreed to changes to his police accountability ordinance to increase the independence of new agencies, the Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday. But major issues remain in contention, according to police reform advocates.

Emanuel agreed to budget guarantees for the proposed Civilian Office of Police Accountability and Inspector General for Public Safety, and to allow COPA to seek outside legal counsel without going through the city’s law department.

Lori Lightfoot addresses the public during a community meeting on the future of IPRA (photo by Vidura Jang Bahadur)

COPA would be guaranteed a budget of 1 percent of the Chicago Police Department’s budget, or about $14 million, according to the report. That compares to an $8 million budget for the Independent Police Review Agency, which COPA is replacing. It’s the funding level recommended by the mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force.

Whether that’s enough remains to be seen. IPRA’s budget “has not adequately supported the needs of the agency,” the mayor’s task force reported. That’s led to poor investigations, large backlogs and long delays in completing investigations.  Under Emanuel’s proposal, the caseload will be expanded to include unlawful searches and arrests – and thousands of additional cases annually could result from eliminating barriers to filing complaints, as recommended by the Police Accountability Task Force.

The task force also also recommended increased training for agency staff and an independent database (IPRA currently uses CPD’s computerized case management system), both of which represent significant costs.

The mayor’s proposal is “a step forward but falls short of what’s needed to ensure the new agency has the resources to do high-quality, solid investigations,” said Craig Futterman of the Mandel Clinic at the University of Chicago.

Reform advocates remain strongly opposed to allowing the new agencies to hire former employees of CPD and the State’s Attorney, as Emanuel’s ordinance does. And major transparency issues have not been addressed – including whether the new inspector general will be subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

“There are a lot of open legal questions about the public’s right to information from an IG for public safety under the [state’s] FOIA statute and under a new ordinance,” said Matt Topic, an attorney who represented journalist Brandon Smith when he successfully sued last year for release of dashcam video of Laquan McDonald’s shooting. “The ordinance needs to be very carefully crafted to ensure the public can obtain these records so it can monitor the new IG and see if it’s doing a good job.”

Another ordinance is planned to establish a community oversight board – and to establish a process for selecting the administrator of COPA. “To ensure independence and accountability to the community,” PATF recommended a chief administrator of a new investigative agency be selected by the community oversight board.

A hearing by the City Council’s joint budget and public safety committee is now scheduled for October 3, with a vote by a full council two days later.

Meanwhile, supporters of an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council called a demonstration at City Hall for 9 a.m. on Thursday, September 29, saying “COPA is IPRA with a new name.”

TRANSPARENCY: To date, the mayor’s ordinance includes no reporting requirements beyond what currently exists for IPRA.

In contrast, a competing proposal submitted by Ald. Leslie Hairston and Jason Ervin contains an extensive set of reporting requirements, mandating prompt public posting of basic information about civilian complaints and weapon discharge incidents, including the names of police officers under investigation. It requires the agency replacing IPRA and the public safety IG to post reports and data sets for each completed investigation, audit, review or recommendation, including responses from the police superintendent, as well as quarterly reports on their activities.

Under the Hairston-Ervin ordinance, the public safety IG’s policy recommendations and reviews would be posted within five days of completion, allowing the public to weigh in on policy discussions; under the mayor’s ordinance, they would not be released until the police superintendent accepted or rejected them.

The alternative ordinance also requires that video of incidents under investigation be released within at most 14 days. The city’s current policy is to release videos within 60 days, with provisions to extend the period.

IN THE NEWS: While the U.S. Justice Department investigates CPD for possible racial bias, a new report finds that “federal agents singled out minorities for controversial drug stings in Chicago,USA Today reports.

A report by Columbia Law professor Jeffrey Fagen found that 91 percent of sting targets were black or Hispanic – and that even targeting people with criminal records, there was a 1-in-1,000 chance that a random selection would have resulted in such a high proportion of minorities.

The stings are particularly controversial because rather than solving existing crimes, they seek to create crimes and enlist unsuspecting individuals, who are set up to rob fictitious drug houses. This gives agents unusual latitude in selecting individuals to target.

Suspects “were drawn into the bogus ripoffs by informants who promised easy money at vulnerable points in their lives,” according to a Tribune report last year when charges were dropped against 27 defendants.  By inflating the amount of drugs under discussion, agents could ensure defendants got sentences of 25 years or more.

Fagen’s report was prepared for the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, which is representing defendants in three ATF sting cases. Federal prosecutors insisted that it be sealed, but when USA Today requested the report’s release, Chief Judge Ruben Castillo of the U.S. District Court agreed to make it public.

Chicago’s community policing program – once frequently cited by Mayor Emanuel – is “in crisis,” according to an analysis by City Bureau and the Chicago Reader. “Chicago’s once trail-blazing community policing program has been hollowed out by years of budget cuts and restructuring….The result has been the destruction of the trust and goodwill the police department had built in the early days of CAPS [Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy].”

Photo by Maria Cardona/City Bureau.

Shortly after taking office in 2011, Emanuel announced the “revitalization” of CAPS, but funding for the program has dropped from $4.7 million in 2011 to $3.9 million this year – far below its level in 1999, when CAPS received $12.5 million.

Decentralization has resulted in “an uneven patchwork of programs around the city,” and community activists are frustrated.

The number of juveniles incarcerated by the state of Illinois plummeted from a daily average of 1,438 in 2007 to 546 this year – but racial disparities have grown, with African American youth accounting for 65 percent of detainees this year, compared to 56 percent in 2007, according to The Chicago Reporter.

And annual costs of incarceration have skyrocketed, from $112,000 per detainee in 2014 to $172,000 this year, because the state has been slow to close facilities, according to a report by Voices for Illinois Children.

Advocates call for closing facilities and redirecting resources to community-based programs that are much cheaper – and much more effective in preventing recidivism. One such program costs only $6,000 per juvenile, but the state’s budget impasse has forced counties to cut back or eliminate funding for alternative programs.

Chicago’s high-crimes areas are staffed by the least experienced officers, while veterans flock to safer districts, according to a report by City Bureau and the Marshall Project.

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