State Board Rejects COPA Investigators
Opinion Bolsters FOP Claim That COPA Cannot Investigate Fatal Shootings
The Executive Director of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board (ILETSB) has asserted in a recent letter that Chicago’s police oversight body is not legally qualified to investigate police-related homicides.
In an October 28 letter, Brent Fischer, Executive Director of the ILETSB, asserted that Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) is, in his opinion, without statutory authority to investigate police-related shootings. Fischer’s position, outlined in his letter to FOP President Kevin Graham, reinforces the identical position taken by the Fraternal Order of Police.
Graham and FOP Field Rep Bob Bartlett had addressed the ILETSB at the organization’s quarterly meeting in September, outlining their objection to the COPA investigators investigating homicides.
“Because COPA employees are not police officers of the Chicago Police Department and are not primarily responsible for the prevention and detection of crime, they are not ‘law enforcement officers’ and are therefore ineligible to serve as lead investigators in death and homicide investigations,” Fischer wrote.
The letter also asserts that even a retired or former law enforcement employee working at COPA is not authorized as a lead investigator.
“While the board does not revoke any certification or withdraw prior approvals when an officer leaves their law enforcement employment, the ability to serve as a lead homicide investigator ceases upon receipt of their specific forms of separation. This means that any officer who was properly LHI certified while working as a law enforcement officer will continue to hold such certification upon retirement or separation, but no longer has the authority to serve in that capacity.”
The opinion begs key questions.
How can COPA investigate police-involved homicide cases when state law specifically stipulates that those cases can only be investigated by certified homicide investigators?
Equally important, why have Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan not intervened to stop what are clearly unlawful investigations?
The letter also poses grave questions for the proposed consent decree over the Chicago Police Department currently being pursued by the city and AG Madigan. The consent decree would allow COPA to continue with these investigations.
Other complicating factors are several scandals currently taking shape in COPA and its predecessor, IPRA.
Former Chicago Police Commander Glenn Evans claims IPRA investigators ginned up false allegations that led to his criminal indictment. Evans was acquitted of every charge. Another lawsuit from a former IPRA employee claims he was told to change his findings in a police-involved shooting to make the shooting unjustified. In yet another case, FOP discovered that COPA withheld the existence and the findings of outside investigators in an investigation of a police-involved shooting.