Sharon Fairley on How Chicago Could Improve How it Handles Police Misconduct Cases

Sharon Fairley: 3 ways to improve how Chicago handles police misconduct cases

While debate rages regarding the establishment of a civilian board to oversee the Chicago Police Department, the underlying police accountability system deserves greater attention. Unless we get this system working the way it should, adding a civilian board to oversee the Police Department will be mere window dressing.

Let me explain. From late 2015 until the fall of 2017, I led the city agency that investigates incidents involving deadly force by Chicago police officers, which in its present incarnation is the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, or COPA. COPA is part of the city’s overly cumbersome and often biased system that deals with police misconduct. What many Chicagoans don’t realize is that when COPA recommends an officer be fired for an unjustified use of deadly force, the process doesn’t end there. The case moves on to the Chicago Police Board because that is the only city entity with the legal power to fire an officer.

Since January 2016, the Police Board has ruled on four cases in which COPA recommended that an officer be fired either because the officer used deadly force without justification, or was accused of lying about an unjustified use of deadly force. But, the board has yet to fire a single officer in these cases.

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