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Chicago police watchdog submits to audit: Will things change?

The Independent Review Police Authority was established in 2007 to monitor the Chicago Police Department. Now, nearly a decade later, that agency has been accused of enabling the 'systemic racism' it was supposed to root out.

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    Sharon Fairley, chief administrator of the Independent Police Review Authority for the city of Chicago, speaks at a news conference Wednesday, in Chicago. Ms. Fairly introduced her staff and highlighted changes that have taken place in the first 100 days since she took over the agency.
    M. Spencer Green/AP
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Chicago took another step Wednesday to improve the transparency and accountability of its police department after months of protests and criticisms that the force has acted unfairly against minority communities.

A law firm will conduct a six-month audit of the city's Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) to probe the civil review board for systemic bias, with results available to the public. The review is needed, said the organization's head Sharon Fairley, because it has upheld so few complaints in its nine years of existence, only faulting officers in police shootings on two occasions.

The city created the IPRA in 2007 in response to calls for police reform after two videos of shocking police violence and ensuing protest that cost the Chicago police chief his job. Another wave of protests and debate following last year's release of footage from a 2014 police shooting have convinced many that this organization has not served its purpose but has instead entrenched "systemic racism" in police operations.

"The current system of IPRA is one of the main things that has allowed the code of silence to flourish in the Chicago Police Department," Sheila Bedi, a professor of law at Northwestern University, told the Associated Press. "It needs to be abolished and entirely reconstituted."

New IPRA head Fairley pledged in December to repair the agency, with an independent review offering a possible first step to improving the police department's damaged community relations.

“There is a direct correlation between IPRA’s dysfunction outlined in this complaint and the brutality that is and has been endemic in the CPD,” read the complaint from the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, among others.

The city's coalition for civil rights began calling to replace the IPRA in December, after a newly released video showed a white police officer shoot a black man 16 times for refusing to drop a knife, with many shots fired after the man had dropped to the ground. The problem, an original IPRA advocate-turned-critic told The Christian Science Monitor, is the agency inherited the same staff as the watchdog organization it was designed to replace.

The law firm conducting this review, McGuireWoods, has offices across the United States and Europe, including one in Illinois. The city's selection of a separate, private organization for the audit directly answers the criticism that IPRA simply took on the former staff of its predecessor organization, although some had called last year for the agency to be replaced entirely.

This announcement comes one month after an announcement from the Chicago Police Department that its call for new recruits had been answered with its most diverse applicant pool ever. Both announcements suggested potential for improvement, community leaders have said, and they hope the city's follow-through will be equally encouraging.

"I’m happy the applicants responded," Jedidiah Brown, president of the Chicago Young Leaders Alliance, told the Monitor. "I’m on standby for what the administration is going to do."

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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