It’s been six months since the video of Laquan McDonald’s fatal shooting put a national spotlight on police brutality and corruption in Chicago, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is still grappling with how to restore trust of the city’s officers.
After replacing the head of the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) to review and overhaul the agency, which has long colluded with Chicago officers instead of holding them accountable, Emanuel wants to scrap the police oversight body altogether.
Emanuel recently proposed an ordinance to dismantle IPRA and replace it with a civilian-run investigative agency and public safety inspector general to closely monitor and audit the CPD. The specific details of the ordinance have not been revealed yet, so it is unclear who will sit on the proposed oversight board, how members would be selected, and the extent to which the new board can go after cops. But the proposed plan is a sign that Emanuel is still scrambling to save face and fix a broken police system.
“My goal is to bring safety to every community though building trust in our police department. That requires creating a new system for police accountability and oversight,” he wrote in a Chicago Tribune editorial. “Under the leadership of Sharon Fairley, IPRA has taken important steps to reshape and improve its investigative efforts. But it is clear that a totally new agency is required to rebuild trust in investigations of officer-involved shootings and the most serious allegations of police misconduct.”
When the video of Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times was finally released to the public last November, the mayor was one of several leaders accused of covering up police brutality and allowing officer violence to continue with impunity. Emanuel, along with State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and the CPD, were slammed for trying to prevent the video’s release and dragging their feet when it came to charging the officer. Calls for the mayor’s resignation began immediately, but grew even louder when local reporters discovered that Emanuel staffers knew about the video and plotted with city attorneys to keep it hidden during the leader’s re-election campaign.
Instead of heeding those calls, Emanuel apologized for decades of police violence, fired Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, expanded CPD’s body camera program, and established a new police task force to “review the system of accountability, oversight and training that is currently in place for Chicago’s police officers.”
He also replaced the head of IPRA, which for years conducted shady investigations of police shootings, failed to probe officers accused of misconduct, disciplined staff members who found cops guilty of wrongdoing, and was previously led by a man with deep ties to the law enforcement community.
“As an independent arbiter of allegations of police misconduct, excessive force complaints and officer-involved shootings, IPRA is a vitally important part of Chicago’s system of police accountability. Sharon [Fairley] brings the experience and independence to ensure that when an officer breaks the rules, they will be held accountable,” Emanuel said in December.
The decision to dump IPRA was announced days after a public approval poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and New York Times reported a 62 percent disapproval rating of Emanuel’s leadership — a rating that has plunged since McDonald’s shooting video was revealed to the public. Emanuel is the last person standing out of the major players associated with the cover-up. In addition to McCarthy’s termination, Alvarez was ousted by voters in March.