Will New Chicago Police Oversight Agency Work?

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As Chicago’s new police oversight agency prepared to begin operations, its chief administrator led a graduation ceremony for 40 staffers newly trained in investigating alleged misconduct by officers, the Chicago Tribune reports. The event took on the feel of a pep rally as Sharon Fairley summoned each trainee and gave brief, encouraging descriptions of those who will staff the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) when it opens Friday. She described one “female Sgt. Friday” who seeks “just the facts” while praising employees for their tenacity, inquisitiveness and unwillingness to settle for anything but the truth.

Those are qualities rarely ascribed to the new agency’s predecessor, the Independent Police Review Authority, where some of those same trainees worked. That agency’s tenure will end after a decade marked by questionable investigations, long delays and rare attempts at disciplining cops. The new agency — forged in the firestorm prompted 22 months ago by video of a police officer shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald — is expected to have about two times the budget of its predecessor, employ about 40 more workers and use expanded technical capabilities. For example, the agency will have its own evidence specialists. COPA has reworked training and policies as part of its bid to emphasize its independence from the police department. The city has yet to set up a community board that reform advocates have said should oversee COPA to make sure it is politically independent. The overarching question facing COPA is whether it will prove to be the first reliably effective police oversight agency in city history. At the graduation ceremony, Fairley acknowledged the scope of the mission. “The world is and will be watching us,” she said.

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