Aldermen Rebuff Chicago Police Union Chief’s Suggestion On Oversight

CHICAGO, IL – The Chicago police union president suggested Thursday that only a task force of outside law enforcement could fairly probe police shootings and maintained that the city’s civilian agency is now handling that job in violation of state law.

But aldermen shot down Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo’s legal claim and fired back that at a time of widespread distrust of the Chicago Police Department, allowing other police to be in charge of looking into police abuse claims here would not provide strong enough oversight.

“How do you propose we balance the public skepticisms of the police investigating the police with what you’re looking for in seasoned law enforcement professionals doing these investigations?” asked Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th.

The police union boss’ testimony came on the second day of hourslong hearings on the issue of police accountability — meetings that have been decried as “a sham” by police reform experts and public activists.

That negative reaction led Public Safety Committee Chairman Ariel Reboyras, 30th, and Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin, 34th, to agree to convene a more extensive set of hearings. Those could commence later this month before the City Council considers a proposal this fall to disband the Independent Police Review Authority, replace it with another civilian police oversight board and likely set up some type of watchdog office at the Police Department.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been scrambling to come up with police reforms in the eight months since the release of the Laquan McDonald police shooting video. The footage of white officer Jason Van Dyke repeatedly shooting the black teen who was walking away resulted in street protests and a U.S. Department of Justice probe of the Police Department. That led rank-and-file officers and detectives, represented by Angelo, to complain they are under siege by the public and criminals who are emboldened as a result.

The Chicago hearing unfolded the same day Minnesota’s governor suggested that race played a role in the police shooting death of Philando Castile, an African-American school cafeteria manager, during a traffic stop for a broken tail light. That shooting came a couple of days after a white officer shot and killed a black man, Alton Sterling, in Baton Rouge, La.

On Thursday, Angelo told aldermen that IPRA, which probes cases involving deaths caused by police shootings, vehicle crashes or custody mishaps, doesn’t have the training specified under a state law that went into effect Jan. 1.

“IPRA does have a role, but they should not have a role in these investigations,” said Angelo, who added that only sworn police officers can be properly certified as specified in the law. “They don’t have the … knowledge, skills or abilities to participate in this type of an investigation. It is in direct violation of state law.”

Angelo asked the council to establish a task force of officers from outside the city to conduct the probe of officer-involved deaths.

“You can still have civilian involvement, but I don’t think there is any civilian that has working knowledge of what needs to be done,” Angelo said. “It’s not ‘CSI’ on TV, where four commercials later you find that piece of hair and you’ve got your bad guy.”

That led Austin to ask Angelo: “Why do they have to have that expertise when the Police Department is the reason we’re in the situation we’re in now?”

“I don’t agree,” Angelo replied.

“I understand with you being the president of the union and everything, but I’m not going to hold that against you,” Austin shot back.

IPRA Chief Administrator Sharon Fairley said her investigators are properly qualified under the law.

“I am saddened, but not surprised, by Mr. Angelo’s comments,” she said in a statement. “Mr. Angelo’s recent comments suggest that he does not want a strong and independent civilian police oversight agency, a position that is clearly at odds with what Chicagoans are asking for.”

On Wednesday, after advocates declared the hearings a sham, Emanuel’s council allies conceded they should have neighborhood hearings. A day later, Austin reacted with anger at some of the criticism, singling out Lori Lightfoot, who headed Emanuel’s Police Accountability Task Force set up late last year. Lightfoot has labeled the hearings held this week as insufficient.

“To say this is a farce, I am truly, truly insulted,” said Austin, who contended the hearings were an outgrowth of the critical report produced by Lightfoot’s task force. “I’m insulted because the people didn’t elect me to produce farce. They elected me to do just what I’m doing this day.

“We wanted to hear from our public after this report was given,” Austin said. “Now to say that what we’re doing now is a farce, she can go straight to Hades, and I ain’t talking about the country.”

In a statement, Lightfoot reacted cautiously, saying she “always admired (Austin) and particularly her candor on a range of issues,” while also noting the alderman agreed to more hearings. “Much more needs to be done, and I and others welcome the opportunity to work with Chairman Austin and other members of City Council to make that a reality.”

At an unrelated event Thursday, Emanuel noted that the task force had its own set of hearings and said he would have preferred to first introduce a proposal to ditch IPRA and create a new oversight board before having further hearings.

“But if people would like additional hearings on top of the task force, on top of today’s hearing and yesterday’s hearing, we’ll have more hearings and then we’ll do the ordinance,” Emanuel said. “But at the end of the day, the most important thing is to have the reforms in place that meet the objective of the community, the city as a whole and the police department.”

Emanuel is faced with trying to satisfy a public distrust of police but also rank-and-file officers who need to beat back the gun violence that’s taken a dramatic upturn in Chicago.

“Everyone wants the same thing — an oversight that everyone has confidence in and the certainty of that oversight so that the police can do their job, the community can interact with the police with the sense that there is an oversight and an accountability, given the responsibilities that officers carry,” Emanuel said.

From The Chicago Tribune