Chicago protesters target independent police review board

Author: the associated press

CHICAGO (AP) – Besides calling for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s resignation, protesters upset about the conduct of Chicago police have another target: a much-criticized, quasi-independent agency that was created to investigate complaints against officers but has rarely ruled against them.

The mayor’s critics complain that his pledge to reform the Independent Police Review Authority is too limited because he seeks to improve an existing process rather than scrapping the entire structure and starting over.

Suspicion about reforms initiated by City Hall runs deep, especially among blacks, who have heard similar pledges for reform every couple of years, whenever allegations of police brutality arose. Many put more hope in a just-launched federal civil-rights investigation, though that could take years to play out.

In the outrage that erupted over the video showing an officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald, Emanuel sacked his police chief and set up a task force to recommend changes. He also replaced the head of the authority known as IPRA.

Former IPRA investigator Lorenzo Davis, who says he was fired after refusing to reverse findings that one fatal police shooting wasn’t justified, argues that the body is often focused more on whitewashing police brutality than disciplining and weeding out bad cops.

When it was created in 2007, the authority’s exact operations were not made precisely clear. The details were left to politically appointed administrators with close ties to law enforcement. Since 2008, when Davis began working there, more than 10,000 excessive-force complaints have resulted in the dismissal of just four officers, he said.

“It was inadequate from the beginning,” Davis said Wednesday at a Chicago Urban League forum.

The authority’s new head is Sharon Fairley, a former assistant U.S. attorney. Davis complains that Emanuel sought no feedback from the community before the appointment. He said IPRA should be led by someone not beholden to the established power structures and who can absorb and implement new procedures.

One activist on the Urban League panel, Trina Reynolds, argued the agency is beyond salvaging, calling it “illegitimate.”

Others expressed skepticism about Emanuel’s newly created policing task force.

The group includes several figures closely associated with now-tarnished accountability bodies, including Lori Lightfoot, who heads the Chicago Police Board, which is responsible for disciplining officers. Protesters attended one of its meetings Wednesday demanding the resignation of its members. They chanted, “Step down! Step down!”

Advocates are also seeking other reforms that include:

– Creating a new civilian-controlled body, the Police Auditor’s Office. It would have subpoena and other powers to oversee police and IPRA, including unfettered access to all police records. Proponents say its head should not be chosen by the mayor but by a third party after feedback from the community.

– Renegotiating the city’s union contract to strip it of provisions critics say can shield bad officers. Chicago-based lawyer Paul Strauss says one rule bars internal investigators from interviewing officers involved in shootings for 24 hours, potentially giving officers time to coordinate fabricated stories. Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor, pointed to requirements that records of complaints against officers be destroyed after several years.

“If you are destroying evidence, you can’t have accountability,” he said.

The changes ought to include the adoption of stark, simple rules of thumb for police, said Rufus Williams, an African-American businessman, activist and former president of the Chicago Board of Education.

“Don’t shoot to kill. … Don’t shoot us in the back,” he said.

Another emphasis should be on recruiting more African-Americans as officers, Davis said, arguing they are less likely to open fire without justification as they patrol in neighborhoods they’re from.

“At least they’ll treat black people like human beings … and not treat them like they are dogs,” he said.

But advocates acknowledge the difficulty of the task.

“It’s going to be difficult, even if you have the best intentions,” Strauss said.

The management of officers’ behavior on the street level is a major challenge, in part because officers in many situations look for guidance from their union – not the department brass.

Still, Williams and others say they’re also more optimistic than ever about achieving real, lasting change – thanks to in large part to the intense scrutiny that’s followed McDonald’s death.

“This is a defining moment,” he said. “McDonald had a short life, a very tough life. … But his legacy will be strong.”

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