Police review board struggles to keep up

June 17, 2008 4:40:44 PM PDT
Ilana Rosenzweig says her office is backlogged with investigations. She leads Chicago's Independent Police Review Authority. Rosenzweig says her office receives hundreds of complaints about police every month and that has created the backlog. The IPRA was formed last year by Mayor Daley to bring credibility to investigations of police misconduct. Right now, it is busier than it has ever been in its short history. Its investigators will have to determine if Chicago Police used excessive force in a half-dozen shootings in the past week:

The latest shooting happened in the park district playground near Pulaski and Division. Police gunfire wounded 27-year-old Melvin Barlow, who allegedly confronted officers with a handgun. Tuesday morning, eyewitness Christopher Davis said the victim was running away when he was shot.

"He run and he jumped the gate. Then the other officer said he got a gun and they opened fire," said Davis.

The incident is the sixth Chicago police-involved shooting in the past six days. Two people have been killed and three others wounded.

"In one week there are suddenly a number of shootings by officers of individuals in the community, and then you may go for several weeks without them," said Rosenzweig.

IPRA director Rosenzweig has hired and trained only two-thirds of the investigative staff of the new agency she was appointed to lead late last summer. She insisted the authority, which replaced the ineffective police Office of Professional Standards, has not been overwhelmed by the recent increase in shootings.

"It's been a hard time for everyone in the office, but I really think they're stepping up doing a great job," said Rosenzweig.

But attorney Benjamin Nwoye, whose client, 16-year-old Jonathan Pinkerton, was shot in the back and paralyzed by a police bullet last Wednesday, disagrees. He filed a civil rights lawsuit on the boy's behalf Tuesday afternoon and is waiting for IPRA to contact the victim.

"As far as we know, they have not spoken to Mr. Pinkerton yet," said Nwoye.

The recent shootings will be added to the IPRA's huge backlog of cases, including many police abuse and misconduct allegations that occurred several years ago and never cleared by the now-defunct OPS office.

Rosenzweig was not concerned that, for now, her understaffed authority has not met its mandate to resolve all cases within six months.

"If we close investigations prematurely to have a quick answer, we would be doing a disservice to everyone," said Rosenzweig.

Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Daley expressed his confidence in Rosenzweig's agency to get to facts in each of the recent police shootings. He also sympathized with police officers who patrol a city where so many people have illegal handguns.

The IPRA is supposed to have 54 investigators available to it. Right now it has just 37 fully trained people to work thousands of caseloads.


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