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City Council Rubber Stamps Rahm's New Police Oversight Agency

By aaroncynic in News on Oct 5, 2016 7:22PM

As expected, the City Council enthusiastically rubber stamped Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which will replace the beleagured Independent Police Review Authority.

The Chicago Tribune reports the council signed off on it Wednesday afternoon with a 39-8 vote. The ‘no’ votes were cast mostly by aldermen from cop-heavy wards, rather than those who criticized Emanuel’s plan for not going far enough.

Emanuel made some slight changes to the ordinance earlier this week, which apparently was enough to win most alderman over, despite a public push for other alternative oversight bodies. Emanuel’s appointed entity will now have a guaranteed budget of 1 percent of the Chicago Police Department’s budget, the authority to hire independent counsel, and also will now ban current or former cops of the last five years from serving as investigators.

“The level of widespread engagement and transparency is a model that can and should be followed in the future,” wrote Police Board President Lori Lightfoot in a letter to the Sun-Times. “Our city is truly the better for it...There is, of course, more work to be done. [But] passage of this ordinance is a necessary and important building block for the path forward.”

The first head of COPA will be Sharon Fairley, who Emanuel appointed to run IPRA. The new deputy inspector general for public safety, who will be charged with auditing police practices and recommending changes, will also be appointed by the mayor.

"I would consider this the beginning of a journey, not the end," said Emanuel, according to the Tribune. "This is not the end, but it is an important step forward on the improvements that we all get us to a point where I think we have made a difference in the future of the city of Chicago and a fundamental difference in the safety that we want to seek throughout the city of Chicago."

It remains unclear what “fundamental difference,” if any, Emanuel’s new agency will have from the way IPRA worked. Creation of a Community Oversight Board, which is supposed to play a role in picking the head of COPA has been delayed at least until next year. Much of the public is likely to remain skeptical of any mayoral-appointed body.

“Here's a man who sat on incriminating evidence of one of the most horrendous murders in this city for 400 days and he gets a chance to parade in front of us as a social reformer, as someone who's going to bring police accountability to this city? We don't think so,” said said Frank Chapman, of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression at a press conference at City Hall on Tuesday.

Alderman Leslie Hairston, who has her own police accountability ordinance in City Council and was among the ‘no’ votes, also criticized COPA.

"This was our chance to get it right the first time, Chicago, before the U.S. Department of Justice tells us to start over again," she said. "Sadly, Chicago ain't ready for reform. We prove it over and over again."