City Council committee consider plan for new police oversight agency

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The city took new steps Tuesday toward replacing the agency that investigates police misconduct in Chicago. (WLS)

Chicago alderman discussed a proposed ordinance Tuesday that would create a new agency that investigates police misconduct in the city.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan would replace the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) with the Civil Office of Police Accountability (COPA), give the agency greater authority in police abuse cases and appoint a new inspector general to monitor it.

"We've seen a lot of police misconduct that hasn't been addressed. When you don't have public confidence in the body that's responsible for vetting that, it's time to shake that up. I think it's right to dissemble IPRA. It needs to be replaced with a more effective organization that really does review these cases and takes them seriously," said Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward).

Emanuel hoped City Council would approve his new vision for the police watchdog plan by mid-September, but many aldermen believed more discussion was necessary.

Many pressed for COPA to have its own dedicated budget, so the agency wouldn't have to lobby the city for money, which could pose a potential conflict of interest.

But what's ironic about Tuesday's hearing is that the "civilian input" part of the plan was not on the agenda.

The ordinance discussed Tuesday did not include the establishment of a citizen oversight board for COPA, which would help name the agency's permanent director.

"We have elected to hold that portion of this reform to allow for greater community input and greater community involvement in the eventual design," said Katie Hill, of the mayor's office.

Hill said the organizations involved in planning estimated it would take about 6-9 months to create that board.

This comes at a time when alleged police misconduct cases continue to make the news.

Last week, Officer Brett Kahn was charged with battery and misconduct for allegedly hitting a man with a baton.

On Monday, the special prosecutor in the Laquan McDonald case called for a grand jury to investigate the other officers at the scene. They're accused of covering up the 2014 shooting. Dashcam video shows Officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 shots at the black teen as he appeared to be walking away.

Aldermen were scheduled to hear from a number of witnesses at the COPA hearing Tuesday, including representatives of the city law department, which designed the proposed agency, national experts in police accountability, leaders of the police union and citizens concerned about police abuse in Chicago.

The aldermen are not expected to vote on the ordinance until their meeting on Sept. 29.
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