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CHICAGO -- Recent police shootings, coupled with rising violence in some neighborhoods, have added tension to the already frayed relations between community members and authorities this summer, a group of Chicago ministers said Monday.
Spurred by seven shootings by Chicago police in the last two weeks -- four of them fatal -- the group met Monday morning with the head of the Independent Police Review Authority to complain about the pace of police-shooting investigations.
"We were asked to have patience, and really, we want to communicate that patience has run out in the community," said Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor at New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park.
Although the recent cluster of shootings has focused attention on the issue, the total number is about the same as it was last year, according to IPRA statistics.
Chicago police had shot 21 people -- killing six -- through Monday afternoon this year, according to IPRA. During the same period last year, police shot 19 people.
Ilana Rosenzweig, chief administrator of the IPRA, said her office takes every shooting seriously and her staff is aggressively pursuing investigations, taking witness statements and canvassing neighborhoods for witnesses who may have been missed just after the incidents.
While the ministers expressed frustration that investigations of police take too long, Rosenzweig said the pace has improved since city officials overhauled the agency late last summer.
But the agency has several institutional problems yet to overcome, including shortage of investigators, the need to better train existing staff and a large backlog of cases.
When IPRA was created last year out of the re-organization of the Office of Professional Standards, the City Council created a six-month threshold on investigations, after which the agency would have to justify the reasons for the delay to involved parties.
Critics note that the six-month mark is routinely exceeded.
Rosenzweig said she's making progress, has added eight investigators and a supervisor and "the backlog has stopped growing."
She said the six-month mark is a "timeline" rather than a deadline, and she believes that once the backlog of cases is erased and IPRA is fully staffed, the agency will routinely complete investigations within that period.
But IPRA investigators often have been dependent on factors beyond their control to complete investigations, especially shooting cases. Some evidence flows through the Police Department, and arranging to interview the accused officer is usually not done until the evidence has been evaluated.
The ministers Monday cited a 10-month-old investigation into a shooting last August that sparked unrest in the North Lawndale neighborhood. Aaron Harrison, 18, was shot in the back and killed by police who said he pulled a gun on them in an alley. Harrison's aunt, Ashunda Harris, accompanied the ministers on Monday and said the group will meet with Rosenzweig in three weeks to discuss the case.
"It's hard to move on when you have no answers," Harris said.
Rosenzweig said she could not discuss details of the investigation but said recent developments have moved the case closer to completion.
Rev. Ira Acree, a North Lawndale pastor, said that although the great majority of Chicago's police force was upstanding, the actions of "a few bad apples" had translated into a stark lack of confidence in police in the community.
His colleague, Rev. Steve Greer, encouraged witnesses in pending investigations of shootings by police to come forward and cooperate fully.