Chicago police watchdogs draw distrust from activists

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Posted: Dec 28, 2015 2:46 PM
Chicago police watchdogs draw distrust from activists

CHICAGO (AP) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel said over the weekend that "the public deserves answers" following the fatal Chicago police shootings of 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier and 55-year-old Bettie Jones early Saturday.

The mayor said the case has been referred to the city's Independent Police Review Authority and that evidence would be shared with the Cook County state's attorney's office "for additional review in the days ahead."

Both entities have been under withering criticism since the release last month of a video showing white police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014. LeGrier and Jones were also black.

The shootings came amid scrutiny of police across the country after a series of deaths of blacks by officers.

Here's a look at those responsible for investigating Chicago police shootings.

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QUASI-INDEPENDENT

Chicago's Independent Police Review Authority is a civilian agency that investigates possible police misconduct, including the shootings of citizens by officers. It's drawn distrust for siding with police. Of 409 shootings involving police since September 2007, the agency found only two with credible allegations against an officer, according to the agency's own data.

The mayor named Sharon Fairley, a former assistant U.S. attorney, to take over the agency Dec. 6 to help "reinvigorate an essential oversight body." The change in leadership came as the federal government opened an investigation into the Police Department in the wake of footage showing McDonald's death.

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ROOTS IN CRITICISM

IPRA was created in 2007, in response to criticism of how the Chicago Police Department was investigating officer misconduct. The City Council did away with an internal police oversight office, turning it into a separate city department with subpoena power and a chief administrator reporting directly to the mayor.

But the resulting Independent Police Review Authority can only make recommendations for officer discipline, with the final determination made by the police superintendent or by the mayor-appointed police board.

IPRA also suspends its investigations when there is a criminal investigation. In the case of Van Dyke, who's been charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of McDonald, IPRA cannot interview other officers involved while criminal matters are pending.

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TOP PROSECUTOR

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez took more than a year to announce murder charges against Van Dyke, drawing calls for her resignation from protesters. They've accused her of a cover-up.

Alvarez, the first woman and first Hispanic to serve in the job, was facing a tough re-election even before the McDonald case. Key political supporters have said they will no longer back her in the March primary, including U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis and Alvarez's former campaign co-chair.

She has defended her actions as those of a careful, experienced prosecutor, and has said she will stay in office as long as voters will have her.

She's also criticized IPRA for its slow pace in interviewing witnesses in the case of another officer. "It took them eight months to find witnesses to interview," Alvarez said, even as she explained that her decision not to charge George Hernandez, an officer who fatally shot 25-year-old Ronald Johnson III last year as he fled, was based on IPRA's investigation.

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REFORMS PROPOSED

Activists are seeking reforms that include creating a new civilian-controlled body, the Police Auditor's Office. It would have subpoena and other powers to oversee police and IPRA, including unfettered access to all police records. Proponents say its head should not be chosen by the mayor but by a third party after feedback from the community.

Some would like to strip the city's union contract of provisions critics say can shield bad officers. Chicago-based lawyer Paul Strauss says one rule bars internal investigators from interviewing officers involved in shootings for 24 hours, potentially giving them time to coordinate fabricated stories. Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor, points to requirements that records of complaints against officers be destroyed after several years.

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Follow Carla K. Johnson at https://twitter.com/CarlaKJohnson . Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/carla-k-johnson .