Waukegan mayor says study civilian police accountability office

A Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) may be in Waukegan’s future but it cannot be like the one in the City of Chicago with its full investigative powers to recommend change.

Mayor Ann Taylor told the Waukegan City Council of her intention to study the possibility of creating a Civilian Office of Police Accountability at a regularly scheduled meeting Monday at City Hall letting them know the possibility is on the horizon.

Taylor said she wants appropriate city officials to take a look at the feasibility of creating a Waukegan COPA. She wants to know what the group might look like and get some ideas of what it could possibly do.

“When we’ve kind of sorted through and worked with staff, I will share it with residents at an upcoming city council meeting but we are still in the exploratory process of that,” Taylor said at the meeting.

With Chicago operating under a set of Illinois laws for cities with more than 1 million people and Waukegan under different state regulations as a home rule city, Taylor said after the meeting Waukegan cannot use Chicago’s COPA as a model.

Finding a way to get the community involved and keeping it fair for everyone affected is the challenge facing Waukegan officials. Taylor said those who join the panel, if one is established, must be open minded.

“They can’t have any preconceived ideas,” Taylor said after the meeting. “Overall the police are doing a very good job. Police have to make very difficult decisions. They make decisions that can save a life.”

Chris “Brotha” Blanks, the founding chief president of the Black Abolition Movement for the Mind, has lobbied for more police accountability for around 20 years. He said Wednesday he understands the gravamen of police duties.

“The most important thing is everybody gets to go home alive after a police encounter,” Blanks said.

Along with making sure any COPA type board the city creates complies with Illinois law, Taylor said municipal officials must recognize a good deal of police regulation is negotiated with the officers’ union.

Blanks said Wednesday any potential COPA member must understand what police do. Before they can participate, a certain amount of training is necessary so they can evaluate any situation from all sides.

“They should be able to get to know the officers,” Blanks said. “They need to get in the car and know what it looks like for the officers. Anyone who takes part has to do that.”

Though Waukegan may have to take a different course than Chicago, that city’s COPA is a recommending body not a legislative one, according to its website, similar to Waukegan’s Planning and Zoning Commission. Blanks wants it to have respect.

“A COPA has to have some bite,” Blanks said. “It has to have some teeth.”

Permanent Casino’s site plan, variance approved

The City Council unanimously approved an ordinance without discussion OK’ing American Place’s site plan for its permanent casino as well as a variance to build a fence more than four feet high.

Alex Stolyar, the senior vice president and chief development officer of American Place owner Full House Resorts, said the fencing will be six feet high as it is at the temporary casino rather than four feet. It will be 10-feet in height at the entrance to a five-star suite hotel.

Stolyar said after the meeting the company will continue with its design plans for the permanent resort. When done, the permanent casino will offer 100 table games and 1,640 slot machines. There will also be four full-service restaurants and a 1,500-seat entertainment venue.

While planning for the permanent facility is ongoing, Stolyar said the sportsbook will be opening soon at the temporary casino. It is awaiting final approval from the Illinois Gaming Board.

With two restaurants already open, Stolyar said plans to open a third restaurant — North Shore Steak and Seafood — are progressing and it will also be operating soon.