16th Police District Council hears overview of Civilian Office of Police Accountability
by BRIAN NADIG
An overview of the history and policies of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability was given at the Nov. 14 meeting of the 16th (Jefferson Park) Police District Council.
COPA, which investigates complaints against officers and police-involved shootings, started in 2017 following the controversy over the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Dash cam video of the shooting was withheld from the public for more than a year, and an officer was later convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting.
The shooting led to calls for increased transparency, including a quicker release of footage from police cameras.
“We have 60 days to release that footage,” COPA manager of legislative affairs Mack Thurman said at council meeting. The Chicago Police Department can release footage earlier but unlike COPA’s release, that footage may be edited, he said.
Collecting camera footage is not always a quick process, as “50 to 100” officers could respond to a major incident, Thurman said. In addition to body- and dash-cam footage, the agency will review video from private surveillance cameras and police observation devices.
Some of the meeting’s attendees expressed concern that COPA.s investigations into police misconduct can take years to complete. Its conclusions, along with possible disciplinary recommendations, are given to the police superintendent for review and consideration.
“Our goal is to get everything done in six months. Right now I’d say it’s probably a year,” Thurman said. The number of open cases is “under 900” compared to “up to 2,000 a year ago,” he said.
Also discussed was a voluntary mediation pilot program in which officers meet with those who have accused them of misconduct. With the help of a mediator, efforts are made to reach a mutually agreeable resolution.
A retired police officer said that he saw inconsistency in how officers were disciplined and that a stronger emphasis on retraining was needed.
In another matter, council chair Danny Martin said that he plans to talk to the district about ways to disseminate accurate information about recent crimes to the public.
“The rumor mill with social media is just so fast,” Martin said.
About 25 people attended the meeting, which was held at the Eden United Church of Christ, 5051 W. Gunnison St. The three-person council usually meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month.