Mayor Emanuel: To reduce violence, we need police transparency and accountability

In his passionate speech last night, Mayor Emanuel delivered a multi-pronged call to action to reduce violence in Chicago that includes enforcement, investment, and prevention. We applaud the Mayor for committing substantial new resources to address the crisis in our city, and we stand ready to work with City officials and our community partners to make the streets of Chicago safe for everyone. However, if the Mayor is truly committed to transparency and accountability, he will need to follow through on specific structural changes that guarantee independent oversight of the Chicago Police Department.

The crisis in our city is not just one of violence. It is a fundamental collapse in confidence and erosion of trust in our institutions that are charged with the public’s governance and protection. The Mayor acknowledged that “we will not succeed in turning back the rising tide of violence without changing and rebuilding critical relationships with the community.” This relationship is broken. Bold and unequivocal steps must be taken to begin to heal what has been broken.

In the first week of October, The City Council will vote on the Mayor’s proposed ordinance to create the Civil Office of Police Accountability (COPA) and a new Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety. Our elected officials have an historic opportunity to begin rebuilding the relationship with communities by signaling a clear commitment to transparency and accountability. The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights is part of the Chicago Civil Rights Collaborative for Police Reform that has met and advocated with City officials, and we are pleased that the Mayor’s office has made important strides toward an ordinance that will put CPD on a new path to restore the community’s trust. But the ordinance must include additional critical safeguards to ensure that policing in Chicago is fully accountable and transparent to the public.

First, these new oversight bodies must be adequately funded and resourced with a fixed budget insulated from politics. Second, both entities must have the ability to retain their own independent counsel outside the Law Department’s staff who have represented police officers and the City. Finally, COPA should not be able to hire former CPD officers. While we understand the argument that the Chief Administrator wants free reign to recruit and hire the most capable investigators, the public concern around bias – based on a long history of demonstrated bias in the CPD culture – is justified and outweighs that interest.

The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights will continue to work with City officials, other legal and policy advocacy organizations, and community-based groups to promote the cultural and policy changes that are needed to produce lasting police reform and accountability. We urge our Mayor and City Council to stand on the right side of history at this critical moment.