CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal to create a new police oversight system faced scrutiny at an initial public hearing Tuesday over whether it would have adequate funding and could operate independently of City Hall influence.
Trying to rebuild trust in his leadership and the department after the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, Emanuel unveiled plans last month to change how Chicago reviews police shootings, wrongdoing allegations, systemic practices and citizen complaints, a move that comes amid an ongoing U.S. Department of Justice probe of police.
The proposal calls for replacing the maligned Independent Police Review Authority with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which would have broader powers to investigate officer misconduct allegations, including claims of coercion and illegal searches. The plan would also create a deputy inspector general position to audit department practices.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Chicago legal department head Stephen Patton called the proposal an approach that “balances and reflects the interests” of all stakeholders. A vote is expected Sept. 29.
However, several aldermen raised concerns about its power and sustainability because the proposal doesn’t establish a fixed funding level for the office, making it vulnerable to budget cuts. They also questioned why there wasn’t a provision for the office to hire attorneys other than City Law Department lawyers who defend Emanuel’s administration and police sued for misconduct.
“If we’re going to do this correctly, we have to make sure it has all the components that are necessary,” Alderwoman Leslie Hairston told reporters outside the hearing. “Otherwise this is just an exercise in futility just to say something was done without having any real meaning.”
Hairston has pitched a separate plan for police oversight, which relies on more citizen input. She said she’ll introduce it this week.
Patton said questions about funding and legal representation need to be addressed, with changes possible ahead of the vote.
Questions also lingered about citizen involvement.
Emanuel’s administration put off guidelines to create a community oversight panel, saying local groups requested more time. City officials also haven’t specified how future leaders of the office would be chosen, saying the head of the Independent Police Review Authority appointed by Emanuel would take over in the interim.
Prominent civil rights attorney Flint Taylor was skeptical of the plan Tuesday, saying the remaining questions are “fundamental” to moving ahead.
The death of McDonald, a black teen shot 16 times by a white officer in 2014, sparked protests citywide amid national outcry about police shootings. The officer was charged with murder about a year later, after a judge ordered the public release of squad-car video that contradicted officers’ accounts.
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