The proposed bill would overhaul police oversight in Chicago. Credit: Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times via AP

If a new police accountability ordinance passes City Council muster, Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority would be abolished and replaced with a new organization dubbed “truly independent” by supporters but lambasted as a mere “IPRA plus” by critics.

Fifth Ward alderman Leslie Hairston announced a bill Tuesday that would create an Independent Civilian Police Monitor (ICPM), a new police oversight board she says would be more removed from the political process than IPRA, and more transparent about its investigations and findings.

“The establishment of an Independent Civilian Police Monitor is a win-win for both police and the public,” Hairston said during Tuesday’s press conference. “Chicago is under a microscope, and how we choose to respond to this moment will define us as elected officials and as a city.”

Her announcement came after months of protests against the current police accountability system in Chicago, and on the heels of controversy encircling Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s pick for new police superintendent.

University of Chicago law professor and longtime police accountability activist Craig Futterman helped draft the ordinance. “Everything this agency does, unlike IPRA, will be fully transparent, so that everybody can see, from beginning to end, when a situation goes down within hours, information’s going to be released to everybody,” Futterman said at the press conference. “That’s how you gain trust—by being honest with people.”

Under the current system, the head of IPRA is appointed by the mayor. Under the new ordinance, a selection committee would choose three publicly vetted candidates and recommend one for City Council approval. The selection committee would consist of representatives from civil rights groups, immigrant rights groups, LGBTQ rights groups, faith groups, and the mayor’s office, along with participation from the city’s lead police, fire, and legal organizations. The proposal bars former employees of the Chicago Police Department or Cook County state’s attorney’s office from working at the ICPM.

The ICPM’s investigative mandate would also be wider-ranging than IPRA’s, which is limited to investigating complaints made against police officers, as well as firearm discharge and death or injury under police watch.

In the new ordinance language, the ICPM would investigate any perceived or alleged misconduct by police officers, even without a civilian complaint. The ICPM would also analyze patterns within the police department, making regular public reports to the mayor and the superintendent, and maintaining its own database—something IPRA does not have and that often hampers investigations.

The ICPM ordinance also calls for a sharp increase in funding tied directly to the CPD—1.5 percent of the CPD’s budget. For comparison, Mayor Emanuel’s 2016 budget, approved by City Council, allotted $1.4 billion to the CPD and just $8.4 million for IPRA.

Additionally, the ICPM’s staffing would be tied proportionally to CPD’s, at one investigator per 100 police officers.

Reactions to the proposed legislation from police observers has so far been mixed.

“The proposed ordinance covers all the important bases: independent review of individual complaints, and an audit function regarding patterns and trends of officer conduct,” said Samuel Walker, a police accountability expert and professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Walker regularly advises police departments, including Chicago’s, on oversight.

But within hours of Hairston’s announcement, the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), an activist organization that has been working for years on a more wide-ranging proposal for police oversight, tweeted its disapproval.

“It’s the same bullshit,” said Frank Chapman, a longtime organizer with CAARPR. “All it is is rearranging seats on the Titanic. We don’t want that. We want community control of the police.”

Hairston, whose ward includes parts of Hyde Park and South Shore, declined to address CAARPR’s specific criticisms. “What we can all agree on is that we all want accountability and transparency with this new agency,” she said in a phone interview Wednesday. “They have their view as to how this should go and I have my view.”

CAARPR, founded in 1973 with an implicit goal of establishing civilian control of the police, has been advocating for a similar plan called the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) for the last four years, and has urged the activist community to “soundly reject” the proposed ordinance.

“Through CPAC, the Independent Police Review Authority would be replaced, the police board would be replaced, and the Internal Affairs department would be replaced,” Chapman said. “CPAC, as a political entity, would be an elected body. It would not be by appointment.”

Chapman also argues that the proposal does nothing to change the practices of the mayoral-appointed Chicago Police Board, which rarely moves to discipline officers. (For example, the board has yet to follow former superintendent Garry McCarthy’s recommendation to fire detective Dante Servin, who killed Rekia Boyd in 2012.

UIC political science professor Dick Simpson agrees that control over the police board is key. “IPRA has been a major problem, but the overall discipline of police, particularly by [the] police board, is a major problem,” he said. Simpson is a longtime advocate of an elected police board.

In an e-mail, police board head Lori Lightfoot, also a member of the mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force, said she had not reviewed the ordinance, but that “the Task Force will be releasing detailed findings next week, some of which will address the same topics as the ordinance.” (The task force has been delayed in issuing its report, which had been scheduled to come out in late March.)

At Tuesday’s press conference, Hairston said she plans to introduce the police monitor ordinance in City Council “May or June.” As of press time, no other aldermen had publicly supported the ordinance, though Hairston said Wednesday that unnamed aldermen had already reached out to her to express their approval. If passed, the law could take effect as early as January of next year.

This report was produced in partnership with City Bureau, a Chicago-based journalism lab. Additional reporting by Kendall Granberry and Darryl Holliday.