After a series of one-on-one meetings with aldermen following her contentious testimony in front of a joint committee on police accountability, Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) head appointee Sharon Fairley seems headed towards winning full Council approval. A month earlier, aldermen were visibly frustrated with Fairley, who struggled to answer pointed questions about IPRA investigations and policy. She’d only been appointed by Mayor Emanuel a handful of days before.
Even Ald. Raymond Lopez (15), who had previously distributed a draft ordinance that would dissolve the Authority, said he was pleased to see Fairley’s leadership shakeups, and he’d be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt until budget season rolls around.
Attendance (8/19 Committee Members): Chairman Ariel Reboyras (30), Gregory Mitchell (7), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), Matt O’Shea (19), Willie Cochran (20), Chris Taliaferro (29), Anthony Napolitano (41), Deb Silverstein (50)
Other Aldermen in Attendance: Raymond Lopez (15), David Moore (17), Derrick Curtis (18), John Arena (45)
Aldermen still questioned Fairley for roughly an hour on her resume, how she planned to improve public trust, what structural and policy changes she has in mind for the Authority, and whether she can maintain independence from the Mayor’s office.
While still emphasizing that she was new to her position, Fairley shared some changes she has made or is planning for in the near future:
IPRA recently reached an agreement with the Chicago Police Department and State’s Attorney’s office “for a more collaborative protocol,” Fairley says, where IPRA will be given “earlier, more equal access” to crime scenes. At a press conference earlier this month, Fairley said IPRA would have representatives available at some crime scenes to offer early comment. This could be in response to the backlash against FOP representative Pat Camden, a frequent source for crime reporting, who told reporters that Laquan McDonald “lunged” at officers before he was shot, which dash-cam video later contradicted.
New hires Fairley announced at that same press conference earlier this month will be starting in the next couple weeks. Fairley told aldermen yesterday that IPRA plans to hold a nationwide search to find her next First Deputy. Both Chief Investigator Elizabeth Lerner and General Counsel Eric Muellenbach, who served under Fairley’s predecessor, Scott Ando, are being replaced. Fairley announced last month that her new Chief of Staff would be Annette Moore, and her new Chief Investigator would be Jay Westensee.
Partly in response to criticism over IPRA’s firing of investigator Lorenzo Davis, who WBEZ reported was let go after resisting orders to reverse findings that police were at fault in six shootings, Fairley says she plans to meet with Davis, and for employees to have performance plans. “They weren’t being evaluated,” Fairley said of senior leadership when she started her role. She said there will be performance metrics for employees at every level, and and ethics officer who operates outside of investigations. “If someone feels they’re being asked to do something unethical, they can express it to someone outside of chain of command.”
While better case management will be a priority, Fairley also outlined some communications changes she plans to enact, including informing the Mayor’s office of case investigations that take longer than 6 months to conclude. Larry Merritt, IPRA’s Director of Community Outreach and Engagement, said the Authority had already dramatically reduced its case backlog. In his budget testimony in October, Ando said much of the same, showing a dramatic downward trend in the number of pending investigations.