FAIR COPS: A revolutionary approach to Chicago police reform
Chicago doesn’t need another commission to figure out what’s wrong with city policing. What it needs is a truly independent review agency.
In the wake of the video showing Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times — released 13 months after the October 2014 killing and only after a lawsuit and a judicial order — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is feeling the heat. He fired Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. He appointed a six-person task force to study the situation.
At first Emanuel rejected Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s call for a Justice Department investigation of the Chicago Police Department, calling it “misguided,” but he was forced to backtrack. Oh, and he refuses to resign as mayor, as does Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder only hours before the video was released to the public.
In other words, it’s basically more of the same: Fire the top cop, appoint a commission, and speak out against any outside probe, changing your mind only when forced to.
Enough of the blue-ribbon panels. What Chicago needs is a FAIR COPS Ordinance to create a truly independent Police Auditor Office. FAIR COPS stands for Freedom through Accountability, Investigation and Reform for Community Oversight of Policing Services.
The current group that supposedly investigates cases of police misconduct is the Independent Police Review Authority, or IPRA. It’s described as a civilian group that looks into all police shootings and reported episodes of misconduct. Yet it’s an agency that has fallen woefully short, and has been accused of cover-ups. Last summer, IPRA fired one of its top investigators after he determined that several civilian shootings by police officers were unjustified and he refused to reverse those findings. A review of internal records by Chicago public radio station WBEZ found that investigator Lorenzo Davis was fired after “top IPRA officials, evaluating Davis’s job performance, accused him of ‘a clear bias against the police’ and called him ‘the only supervisor at IPRA who resists making requested changes as directed by management in order to reflect the correct finding with respect to OIS,’ as officer-involved shootings are known in the agency.”
Got that? Davis, a former Chicago police commander and a 23-year police veteran, was booted because he wouldn’t play along with changing his findings to say that shootings were justified. “Since its 2007 creation, IPRA has investigated nearly 400 civilian shootings by police and found one to be unjustified,” the WBEZ report said. And even if IPRA recommends an action, it can be overruled by the Chicago Police Board.
So now there’s a move for a new approach, one that seems to be gaining strength.
“The Police Auditor would have legitimate independence and authority to inspect the entire system of policing for patterns of misconduct, order the investigation of specific cases of police abuse, and make policy changes that would make police more accountable to our communities,” says the group spearheading the move for a FAIR COPS Ordinance in Chicago, the Community Renewal Society. CRS describes itself as a progressive, faith-based organization that works to eliminate race and class barriers and “informs, organizes, and trains both communities and individuals to advocate for social and economic justice.”
New York, Los Angeles, San Jose (Calif.), Denver, and Seattle all have instituted a Police Auditor Office. From the Community Renewal Society’s blog, here’s a breakdown of the responsibilities of such an office.
The Police Auditor’s audits of the Chicago Police Department would include:
- Department policies and practices to determine compliance and identify problematic policing trends and patterns, including excessive force, officer-involved shootings, and racial bias.
- Investigations of officers who have received a disproportionate number of complaints and the power to recommend specific types of intervention for officers who exhibit patterns of misconduct.
- Review of contact cards, tactical response reports, arrest reports, and other police reports to identify specific cases for further investigation or patterns of problematic police practices.
The Police Auditor Office would audit each step of the Independent Police Review Authority’s role in the complaint process:
- Intake: Inspect for a simple, non-threatening process for citizens to file a complaint against a police officer.
- Classification: Ensure that complaints are being assigned properly, including the power to change a complaint classification or refer a complaint to the proper authority for criminal investigation of an officer.
- Investigation: Review for timely, unbiased, and professional investigations in which the finding is supported by a preponderance of the evidence, including the power to require further investigation into a specific complaint.
- Discipline: Ensure that discipline is being applied in a fair and consistent manner adhering to the standards of the discipline matrix, including the power to recommend a different disciplinary action.
The Police Auditor’s audits of the Police Board would include:
- The policies and practices of the Police Board, including the appointment of its members, its hearings, and its public meetings.
- The findings and disciplinary decisions of the Police Board.
- The structure and guidelines of the standardized discipline matrix used to determine appropriate discipline for officer misconduct.
Chicago has 44.1 police officers per 10,000 residents, more than the vast majorities of big cities, according to 2012 data from Governing magazine about states and localities. Only Washington, D.C., and Baltimore have more. Yet the campaign slogan of “more cops on the street” repeated in every election cycle has barely affected the number of killings or police misconduct cases, even with a police budget of $1.4 billion. Chicago also leads the list of large cities with the most police killings.
The movement to pass a FAIR COPS Ordinance, which would be done by the Chicago City Council, may be picking up steam. Many religious leaders throughout the city are backing it. The ordinance been endorsed by Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a consortium of leading Chicago law firms that provides pro bono litigation services to people with civil rights claims and transactional legal services to nonprofit organizations. The Community Renewal Society is urging Chicago residents to contact their aldermen with support.
The trust between Chicago police and community is more broken than ever. A truly independent agency could start mending that broken trust.