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Latest effort at accountability for Chicago police starts up Friday

As Chicago’s new police oversight agency prepared to begin operations, its chief administrator led a graduation ceremony for some 40 staffers newly trained in investigating alleged misconduct by officers.

The event last week 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 when it opens Friday.

She described one as a “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 sparked 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 wield expanded technical capabilities. For example, the agency will have its own evidence technicians. COPA has also reworked training and policies as part of its bid to emphasize its independence from the Police Department.

Still, the agency remains a work in progress.

COPA will open with an incomplete staff. As of the beginning of the month, it had yet to fill about 15 out of its 141 jobs, including a top deputy’s post left vacant just a few months after the city trumpeted the hiring of a top New York police oversight official, agency officials said.

Nearly 30 COPA staffers worked at IPRA, some of them top officials hired as the new agency ramped up, according to a Tribune analysis of city records. Eleven of those employees go back as far as the Office of Professional Standards, IPRA’s predecessor, which…

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