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Big Changes Are In Store For Chicago's Police Review Authority

By aaroncynic in News on Jan 5, 2016 3:14PM

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 07: New head of the Independent Police Review Board Sharon Fairley listens as Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at a press conference on December 7, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The acting head of the Independent Police Review Authority announced a list of changes to the agency Monday she hopes will “restore the public trust,” after it has come under increasing amounts of criticism in the past few months.

“There’s got to be a stronger independent body here,” Sharon Fairley said, at a Monday afternoon press conference. Fairley replaced Scott Ando last month after he resigned in the wake of the release of the Laquan McDonald video. “I realize trust in agency can’t be rebuilt overnight. It’s going to take time,” she later added.

Fairley said the agency plans to take on new personnel, which include a new general counsel, chief of staff, first deputy and chief investigator, as well as staff dedicated to “community outreach.”

The IPRA was formed in 2007 and is charged with investigating allegations of police misconduct, including police brutality and the shooting of civilians by officers. It replaced the Office of Professional Standards with the intention of operating more independently from the Chicago Police Department. Since its inception, the agency has investigated hundreds of shootings of civilians by police, and only found officers were unjustified in their actions twice.

The agency’s reluctance to discipline or fire officers who have shot and killed civilians, along with its structure as an appointed body and lack of community input, has drawn fierce criticism. One of its own investigators, Lorenzo Davis, was even fired over the summer for refusing to reverse his findings in six cases where he found shootings by officers were not justified. More recently, emails released by the mayor’s office show tight coordination in media relations between the agency and City Hall. A movement for an elected civilian-controlled accountability board has been growing.

Fairley said that, while she welcomed community input, the agency has no plans to currently involve the community in ongoing investigations. “We want to hear about our community on what we think needs to change,” she said.

In addition to new personnel, Fairley also said that IPRA would attempt to be more transparent to the public about investigations, when appropriate, but also continue to maintain their integrity.

“We are no longer going to be standing by a hard-and-fast rule that we will never discuss the details of an investigation until it’s complete. I think that that position is now untenable in the world that we’re in.”

The agency has an uphill battle convincing a skeptical public however, that the shake up will be more than just window-dressing. "I think its a good thing that there's going to be change,” Mel Brooks of the Cook County Bar Association told ABC7. “But there have been changes before, and you get all these promises, and what happens is we continue the cycle.”

Ted Pearson, of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, which has been pushing for an elected, all civilian police accountability board, likened the announced changes to "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." In an email to Chicagoist, Pearson said:

"Rearranging the personnel in IPRA won’t keep that boat afloat either. IPRA has proven that it doesn’t, won’t and can’t work. It is structurally incapable of bringing justice to the besieged people of Chicago. It’s reputation has sunk. It’s gone. It needs to be replaced with an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council, along with the Police Board and the CPD IAD. The Alliance has proposed an ordinance to do that."