Aldermen grill head of police watchdog agency

The head of the city's 9-month-old police watchdog agency was sharply criticized by some aldermen and activists today because she couldn't immediately say how many misconduct cases this quarter involved police shootings.

But Ilana Rosenzweig, head of the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), told aldermen she came prepared with exactly the information required by the City Council ordinance that created the agency.

The incident appeared to yield agreement on a new reporting process: the agency will likely appear before councilmen on a regular basis to answer questions spurred by IPRA's quarterly report.

A rash of highly publicized police shootings so far this year, including two shootings this weekend, has ratcheted up criticism of IPRA by community groups concerned with police violence.

At the hearing, Rosenzweig said there were 13 sustained cases of police misconduct found by IPRA this quarter.
Ald. "Ike" Carothers (D-29) asked Rosenzweig if she knew whether any of the sustained findings of police misconduct to date involved police shootings.

"I'll have to get back to you on that," Rosenzweig replied. "I want to give accurate information."

"I got to tell you that I'm surprised that you as a director would not have an answer to a question as simple as that," said Carothers.

"We're dealing with a situation where the reason you're here is related to the lack of integrity in the old OPS. A lot of that integrity was related to shootings. To not know that kind of answer, I think further illustrates one of the problems we have."

After consulting with staff, Rosenzweig later said that none of the sustained findings involved police-related shootings.

There have been a total of 25 police-involved shootings this year to date, said IPRA spokesman Mark Payne.

Rosenzweig's report offered a snapshot of IPRA activity so far this year.

IPRA is responsible for investigating complaints involving excessive force, coercion through violence, domestic abuse, or bias-based verbal abuse. Of the 2,367 complaints of police misconduct from January through March, only 590 met those criteria.

The remainder were referred to the Police Department's internal affairs unit.

Of the complaints IPRA investigated, 77 were dismissed as unfounded; 110 were not sustained after a complete investigation; and officers were exonerated in two cases.

The agency was unable to complete 259 investigations because no witnesses to the misconduct would sign affidavits, a common problem in these types of investigations, Rosenzweig said.

In a hearing in which several aldermen complimented her on her accessibility to the community,  Rosenzweig defended her agency's accomplishments since it replaced the Office of Professional Standards in 2007.

Half of the 16 vacancies she inherited since taking over the agency have been filled, said Rosenzweig, who reported the number of working independent investigators at 44, with four in training.

She also said that her office had held a number of recent meetings with community groups concerned about police shootings. And she described transparency as "one of our important missions as an independent department," citing the agency's practice of posting quarterly reports. The next quarterly report will be posted on July 15.

Rosenzweig said her preparation was shaped by data "specified in the ordinance" and requested that aldermen provide her with their questions in advance before hearings to give her time to provide accurate information.

"I'll be happy to come prepared with those numbers," said Rosenzweig. "If people have specific ways they want things sliced and diced and the numbers worked out, I'd appreciate if they can call my office in advance."

Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (D-4 ), who suggested the quarterly meetings, said they will be very helpful to the council.

"I think if we can hear from IPRA on a regular basis, a couple weeks after the report is issued, it will be helpful to all of us, particularly since we're asked to decide financial settlements involving police misconduct," Preckwinkle said.