Aug. 25–Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s top appointee to the civilian agency that rules on police misconduct cases reiterated her call Wednesday for City Hall to make changes to the police union’s contract, singling out a long-standing requirement that citizens sign sworn affidavits to make a complaint.
Police Board President Lori Lightfoot called the requirement “a very big issue that stands in the way of legitimacy related to the investigation of citizens’ complaints,” adding that it’s something “that’s gotta change.”
It’s a tricky issue, given that Fraternal Order of Police leaders long have maintained that the affidavit requirement prevents a flood of frivolous complaints while critics contend it intimidates citizens who might otherwise file legitimate grievances. But it’s also timely, given that the police supervisors’ contract expires next June and the city is under immense pressure amid a U.S. Department of Justice investigation to change how cops do business in the wake of multiple incidents of alleged police misconduct.
Lightfoot made her comments during a City Council committee hearing on police accountability as aldermen and the mayor are crafting an ordinance to replace the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates alleged police misconduct and shootings, and to establish an inspector general within the Police Department. A former federal prosecutor, Lightfoot was a longtime operative under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, once heading up the Office of Professional Standards, which IPRA replaced nearly a decade ago amid controversy.
In addition to heading up the police board, Lightfoot was appointed by Emanuel to chair the Police Accountability Task Force that recommended scrapping IPRA and creating the inspector general post in a wide-ranging report that also pointed to a “history of racial disparity and discrimination” within the Police Department. She was one of two administration insiders, the other being IPRA Chief Administrator Sharon Fairley, who gave aldermen suggestions on ways to reform the department.
Lightfoot, who’s been in the spotlight lately but shut the door on a possible mayoral run Wednesday, also pointed to other task force recommendations, including a call for more training to deal with crises that often involve mentally ill people, a revival of community-oriented policing and the need for racial reconciliation.
“When you have middle- to upper-middle-class black folks who are doctors, teachers, lawyers, professionals coming and talking about not being able to walk down their street, not being able to drive in a car in their neighborhood without getting stopped, and treated disrespectfully or feeling like they are under siege in their neighborhood, that’s a problem,” Lightfoot said during the hearing.
Fairley, who Emanuel appointed after the November release of video showing black teen Laquan McDonald being fatally shot by white police Officer Jason Van Dyke, also talked about the affidavit requirement, noting it’s enshrined in state law. Although there’s a way to override the requirement, it’s “a fairly cumbersome process, so to the extent that we can address that I think it would be good,” she said.
Changing the process would be difficult, given the union’s stated opposition, but Lightfoot suggested the public play a role by creating “a groundswell of support” for changes to the contract. FOP President Dean Angelo did not return a call seeking comment.
Fairley made other suggestions, including giving the replacement for IPRA a fixed budget so the agency’s leader wouldn’t be beholden to politicians who could cut funding. “If the person who’s giving me the resources is asking me to do something, that creates a conflict,” she said.
In addition, Fairley said that new agency should be able to hire its own attorney who would handle matters now farmed out to the city Law Department, noting attorneys in that department also defend the administration and cops.
But she also made a suggestion that’s likely to rub some reform advocates the wrong way, saying it would be unwise to ban former Chicago cops from serving as investigators of police misconduct. “My fear is that we will be populating the agency with people who aren’t the most qualified to do the work and that will be reflected in the work,” Fairley said.
That prompted a respectful disagreement from Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, who said a ban is warranted.
“There is a culture, there is a pattern and practice in the Police Department, and it’s multigenerational,” Hairston said. “I don’t how you get a pool of untainted officers.”
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