Hairston introduces resolution calling for hearings on COPA

Ald. Leslie Hairston (Herald file photo)

Staff writer

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) has introduced a resolution backed by eight other City Council members calling for hearings on how the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) is functioning.

The resolution raises questions over “a bias in favor of protecting Chicago police officers” accused of misconduct and about chief administrator Sydney Roberts’ leadership and effectiveness.

“I have been hearing things about there being some issues in COPA, and I know that it’s still a relatively new agency,” Hairston said Tuesday in an interview. “Since we are under a new administration, I thought it would be good to get a new report from them on how it’s going.”

“It’s about the operation of the office,” she said. She wants to know how COPA is investigating cases, those investigations’ quality, how cases are closed and how many cases have been investigated.

“I understand that they’ve re-written an investigative manual,” Hairston said. “I’d like to know why they did that, because the other one that was in existence was based on sound legal investigative practices, and it was consistent with the consent decree” drafted with the Obama-era Department of Justice and now overseen by Illinois Atty. Gen. Kwame Raoul (D).

As reported by WBEZ, Mayor Lori Lightfoot — who from 2002 to 2004 led the Chicago Police’s Office of Professional Standards that COPA eventually replaced — said she disagrees with the aldermen about Roberts. A statement from COPA said that Roberts enjoys the agency’s confidence. West Side Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), who chairs the Public Safety Committee, to which the resolution was referred, said he would take the its allegations seriously.

Hairston does not foresee her resolution having an adverse impact on her working relationship with the new mayor. “We want to make sure we are doing things in a different way, and we want to make sure that we are following what the Justice Department said needs to happen,” Hairston said. “She’s publicly said that, so I think this is right.”

Hairston said she is still drafting an ordinance that would create an Independent Citizen Police Monitor (ICPM); the City Council voted down that legislation in 2016, around the time it established COPA, which replaced the Independent Police Review Authority.

In the interview, Hairston said that her ICPM would not replace COPA: “We’re trying to add the civilian component, because what it still misses is the civilian component.”

Woodlawn Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) also signed onto Hairston’s resolution; Hyde Park–Kenwood’s other City Council member, Ald. Sophia King (4th), did not.

Regarding existing police reform options on the table — some left-wing aldermen, including Taylor, have proposed the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) with the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, and Lightfoot supports a proposal put forth by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) — King reiterated her need to review them all, including ICPM, when interviewed on Tuesday.

“I was leaning towards GAPA, because I thought it encompassed a number of things, but there are elements in CPAC that I would put in GAPA,” she said.