Controversy surrounds COPA: Mayor Emanuel shirks accountability, taking matters into his own hands

CHICAGO — Just months after its inception, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) is already severely handicapped. With a budget that is over $1 million short, a chief administrator vacancy, and a huge backlog of cases, COPA is facing an uphill battle.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel named 18 individuals to be added to the search committee to find a new Chief Administrator for COPA, in a press release Friday. The search committee will be charged with recommending chief administrator candidates, but Emanuel will have final say.

The announcement of the search committee comes exactly one month after former Chief Administrator Sharon Fairley declared her candidacy for Attorney General.

Current Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s surprising decision not to run for re-election left COPA with a chief administrator vacancy sooner than expected.

Fairley was brought on as chief administrator of the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) in Dec. 2015. After taking a hard look at IPRA, Fairley recommended a complete overhaul and the creation of a brand new agency — COPA.

After Fairley’s departure, Emanuel appointed retired Cook County Judge Patricia Banks as the interim chief administrator. Banks was elected to judgeship in Cook County in 1994 and has over 45 years of legal experience. Towards the end of her career, Banks specialized in elder law, helping to establish Cook County’s Elder Law Division.

The chairs of the search committee are Paula Wolff, Alderman Ariel Reboyras, and Z Scott. Reboyras is the representative of the 30th ward and Paula Wolff is the current Director of the Illinois Justice Project.

While Wolff and Reboyras were named as chairs in an earlier Oct. 3 press release, there was no mention of Z Scott, a practicing attorney with Foley and Lardner LLP.

The list of added members to the search committee is expansive and covers a wide variety of expertise.

Some members are deeply rooted in Chicago politics and have an established history with Emanuel — like Bonnie Allen, Executive Director of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee.

Other members of the search committee include family members affected by police brutality in Chicago — like Emmett Farmer.

Farmer lost his 29-year-old son Flint, to what was later deemed officer misconduct. The dash-cam video showed then-officer Gildardo Sierra shooting Farmer twice while he was face down on the ground. IPRA officials determined that Gildardo faced no real threat and the shooting was unwarranted.

Rev. Dr. Johnny Miller, a former member of the Chicago Police Board, was also named to the search committee. A 2009 study from the Chicago Justice Project revealed that Miller did not vote in 28.6 percent of police board cases over a 10 year period.

Recently retired Chicago Police Officer Richard Wooten, was named to the search committee in what appears to be an attempt by Emanuel to satisfy law enforcement.

Seven individuals added to the search committee are members that currently serve on the COPA Community Advisory Council. The all civilian advisory council was created in order to give a voice to those that have been most affected by police misconduct.

Despite these efforts, Emanuel has continued to find himself under fire from advocacy groups such as the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression (CAARPR) and the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA). The two groups have continued to call for more community input in selecting COPA’s new chief administrator.

And it’s not just advocacy groups calling for community involvement. In 2016, Emanuel’s Police Accountability Task Force published a report that called for a community board to select COPA’s chief administrator.

Created by Emanuel in response to the Laquan McDonald shooting, the task force includes prominent names such as Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, and former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

Instead, Emanuel has decided to ultimately select the new chief administrator himself — ignoring the recommendation of his own task force.

The task force’s report also suggested a search process that would be “insulated from politics, transparent, and widely inclusive.” The report went on to say that the process should include “multiple opportunities for significant community input.”

So far there has been little to no community engagement during the search for a chief administrator. If there has been any community involvement, it has been behind closed doors.

At the time of publication there have been no public forums scheduled regarding the chief administrator vacancy.

This is not the first time that Emanuel has gone back on his word. It appears that he has also reneged on his promise to keep COPA’s budget fixed at 1 percent of the Chicago Police Department’s budget.

The 1 percent budget fixture was created to ensure that COPA coulld remain independent and not be influenced with threats of budget cuts.

In a September interview with the Chicago Justice Project, Mia Sissac, Public Information Officer for COPA, acknowledged the importance of a fixed budget.

“No matter what, we will always be 1 percent of CPD’s budget. So if their budget grows, our budget grows too,” Sissac said.

After the recent budget hearings, COPA’s 2018 budget is over $1.7 million shy of the promised 1 percent of CPD’s budget.

When asked about the budget discrepancy on Nov. 14, Sissac had no comment.

Although the city feels it has satisfied COPA’s budget requirements, others disagree.

Alderman Scott Waguespack noted that the budget was not enough, telling Banks that “this is not what we agreed to.”

In a Nov. 1 tweet, Alderman Ray Lopez, from the 15th ward, agreed that the budget fell short of the promised 1 percent. The tweet has since been taken down from his account.

When asked about the 2018 budget, interim Chief Administrator Banks said that the current amount allocated to COPA was enough “to do the job we have been asked to do.”

While Banks believes that the budget is sufficient, former Chief Administrator Fairley is not so sure.

“The agency is under resourced based on the current budget,” she said.

Fairley brought up the fact that COPA is currently backlogged with over 940 IPRA cases. “The current budget does not reflect any of those needs,” she said.

“[COPA] isn’t going to be able to keep up with the current cases if they don’t have the funding and resources to handle the backlog,” she added.

Dr. Robert Stokes, Director of the School of Public Service at DePaul University, agreed with Fairley saying, “they are backed up coming out of the gate.”

When asked about the Chief Administrator vacancy, Fairley acknowledged that it is a “very important position” and that she hopes they don’t “drag the process on.”

For now, many are left wondering if Emanuel’s commitment to police accountability is anything more than empty words.


Concerned community members are encouraged to contact their local alderman and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office.

Here is the full list of those added to the search committee:

Bonnie Allen, Executive Director, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights
Eddie Bocanegra, Senior Director, READi Chicago, Heartland Alliance
Dwayne Bryant*, Founder & CEO, Inner Vision International
Jeffrey Cramer, Managing Director, Berkeley Research Group
Ramon Estrada*, General Counsel, Chicago Housing Authority
Emmett Farmer*, Affected family member
Dean Creasie Finney Hairston*, Dean, UIC, Jane Addams College of Social Work
Deborah Harrington, Board of Directors, BPI
Kim L. Hunt, Executive Director, Pride Action Tank
Dorri McWhorter, CEO, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago
Rev. Dr. Johnny Miller*, Pastor, Mt. Vernon Baptist Church
Michelle Morales, Executive Officer, Mikva Challenge
Xavier Ramey, CEO, Justice Informed
Steven Saltzman*, Civil Rights Attorney
Pastor Ron Taylor, Executive Director, United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations
Remel Terry*, 2nd Vice President, NAACP Westside
Richard Wooten*, Gathering Point Community Council and former CPD officer
*member of the COPA Community Advisory Council

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Or contact Jonathan Ballew —

Tracy has nearly two decades of experience researching and working within criminal justice systems. When Tracy began pursuing a career dedicate to system reform, he found that no single organization existed to promote evidence-based discussions among law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Recognizing that citizens in Chicago deserved the right to demand transparency in their criminal justice system, Siska established the Chicago Justice Project. He received his Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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