CN Feb 2 2017


Lori Lightfoot isn’t pleased that the 126 recommendations that her Police Accountability Task Force – the body Mayor Emanuel asked her to front last year – still remain largely words on paper instead of mayoral actions.

And the Department of Justice report, which landed three weeks ago, in many ways draws similar conclusions and calls for similar reforms.

“Sometime soon after the taskforce issued its report the Mayor said – ‘We’ve adopted one-third of the taskforce recommendations,’”  Lightfoot tells us. “There are 126 specific recommendations. They were purposely designed to be kind of a matrix that fits together. They were not designed to be one-off things. Now, there are clearly things that you can do on a one-off basis, but the point was to move forward in a strategic thoughtful way and that has not happened. I won’t get into the was it a third, was it not a third, but I’m going to tell you that the vast majority of the recommendations of the taskforce have not been picked up. They have not been implemented, and so there’s still a significant amount of work that needs to be done.”

“I think the Police Department is in dire need of change,” she continues. “What we found was a significant lack of investment in the Department. And really it’s most important asset, it’s primary asset is its people. We shouldn’t have the second largest police force in the country and have a state of affairs where after you graduate from the Police Academy you have no other annual mandatory training other than firearms qualification, which in and of itself is woefully inadequate, because it’s 30 bullets into a paper target. It doesn’t simulate any real-world circumstances, but that’s not fair. It’s not fair to the officers. It’s not fair to the taxpayers for whom we spend a significant amount of money in the recruitment and retention process for police officers equipping them with resources. It’s not fair to them. They shouldn’t be in a situation where they don’t have the most up-to-date tools, technology, thinking about local policing possible, and we have not made those kinds of investments. And if there’s a frustration we mapped that out in bold relief in April of 2016. We are now almost a year later and very little progress has been made.”

We suggest that, with the cover of two significant reports, a new and apparently eager police chief and a public acceptance that our police force is not operating optimally, this could be a time for bold and historic leadership.

“I think that’s absolutely right,” she asserts. “I think this is a tremendous opportunity for leadership to really turn the page and articulate a vision of our City that is different and is better, and challenges and welcomes all of us to be a part of the solution…There’s so much low-hanging fruit on all these issues. Some of it’s difficult. Much of it will not be solved in a short period of time, but what’s the expression, the journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first steps.”

Expressing frustration that the Mayor appears to have let up the gas, she says it’s time to push forward on reforms. “And I’ll go back to what I said before, 2017 ought to be the year of leadership in Chicago.”

Lightfoot doesn’t just reserve her criticism for Mayor Emanuel, though. The State of Illinois, she says, plays a major role in Chicago’s crime problem.

“It’s no coincidence that the violence in our City started to spike in the spring of 2015 and went gradually up and then kind of off the charts in 2016,” she continues. “What else has been happening in our State? We have a budget impasse where the social service agencies that really provided important fiber and network in a lot of these communities by supporting young people, children, and families, they either don’t exist anymore, or the offerings that they have for people in need are substantially curtailed because they are not getting funding from Springfield.”

And, just in case you’re wondering what the Police Board Chair thinks about President Trump’s “offer” to send in the Feds to solve our crime problem, and possibly to visit here to meet with gang leaders, Lightfoot isn’t impressed.

“So there’s all this talk about sending the feds, do this, do that, but fundamentally the problems that we’re seeing, the challenges that we have in the City, both with police reform, accountability, community police relations, those questions as daunting as they are all have to be addressed and solved by what’s on the ground here in Chicago,” she insists.”I think what’s required now is real leadership. Real leadership to dig in and make the hard choices, face the hard truths and come up with a real plan of action.”


Here are some significant quotes from today’s conversation.


On Eddie Johnson, who was not one of the three finalists her Board selected for the Mayor’s  perusal. Despite all their vetting work, the Mayor went with Johnson

I didn’t know Eddie Johnson until he was selected by the Mayor to be the superintendent. He is a good man. He is someone who I think is really trying to do absolutely the best that he can. He is respectful. He is open. He’s receptive to feedback. I feel like we have a very open candid relationship where we can come to each other with a variety of issues. And one of my goals clearly is to support him because I think supporting him supports the Department and helps improve the quality of life for the City.


On the Superintendent’s Strategic Subjects List, a log of about 1,400 people considered to be most susceptible to committing or being the victim of street violence:

I think there’s still a lot of questions about that list. This is an algorithm that was created by a professor I believe at Illinois Tech. He controls the algorithm. He is fed data from the Chicago Police Department.

Ken:                Still today?

Lori:                Still today. They don’t own the technology.

Ken:                The Police Department doesn’t own it?

Lori:                They do not own the technology.


One of CPD’s gravest problems, Lightfoot has come to believe, is historic disinvestment. Like the impoverished neighborhoods it serves, CPD itself hasn’t shared in the wealth other parts of the City, and other City services, have enjoyed.

The Police Department in my view is one of the most important institutions in the City. Not just an institution of government, but one of the most important institutions in the City. People don’t feel safe. They don’t feel like officers are legitimate. That presents a potential for real chaos. Someone argued that we might have that level of chaos in certain crime-plagued neighborhoods, but I think the thing that we need to focus on is we’re trying to get back to a place where every citizen who has the need for policing services can get those services in a respectful and constitutional way that provides them with confidence that they are going to be protected when there’s a need. We’re not in that place yet and we need to get there.


Both reform reports identified training as one of the most urgent issues facing CPD. Lightfoot tells us about visiting the Training Academy during Taser training, being held in the hallway.

I watched this happen and thought to myself this is crazy. How can this be the most conducive environment for these men and women to learn about using non-lethal force to take it seriously, and to feel like their department is taking it seriously and investing in them. It was like running people through a conveyor belt, and it’s noted in the DOJ report that I talked to many officers who went through that training during that time and felt like they didn’t really know what they were supposed to do. They hadn’t retained any of the lessons that they were instructed on and using the taser. That’s crazy.


On engaging officers fully in the planning for that much-needed training

You train so that officers have the resources and tools that they need to be able to do their job effectively, but how do you know what that is? You talk to the officers. You survey them and get a sense for the kind of training that they need. You also think about what values do we want to instill in every single officer, whether it’s somebody wet behind the ears coming into the Academy for the first time, or a more veteran officer. That training is going to be different depending on what their responsibilities are. It’s going to be different depending on what neighborhoods and the different challenges there. But you would have to think strategically about that and not just reflexively because there’s a crisis that’s happened. There’s a flash point that’s now come in the news and so let’s throw some training at it and make it look like we’re doing something.


On providing differential training for officers being assigned to various neighborhoods. Chicago’s vastly different neighborhoods do require different kinds of training, she says.

If you approach it as I’m fearful and I’m going into this neighborhood and everybody there is out to get me, everybody there is a criminal, everybody there is a gun-toting gang member, on and on and on the narrative goes, you’re going to be woefully unsuccessful in doing your job. How do we combat that? We bring people in from those communities into the training for those officers. No officer should be going into a new neighborhood to police, into a new district without getting a full neighborhood orientation that includes bringing in people from those neighborhoods so they can demonstrate in real life that there are three-dimensional folks that live in these neighborhoods who want the same things for their kids and their families as those officers do, and that there’s a way to partner up in a respectful way with people in those communities to get the job done.


Chicago’s murder clearance rate is an embarrassment . Only about 20% of murders are ever solved by CPD, and that’s due in part to the fact that CPD doesn’t have enough detectives. The DOJ found that there hadn’t even been an exam for the position in years. And there was no shortage of police who wanted to test for those positions.

They did the first one , ironically they did it in May on a Saturday for 12 hours and I think like 4,000 people signed up for the test. About 1,200 people actually showed up, but there again you had 1,200 people off the streets for 12 hours on a summer weekend…

The clearance rates are so low that statistically, if you kill someone in Chicago, you probably won’t get caught.

You can get away with murder. You can literally get away with murder. If you shoot somebody and they actually happen to live, the clearance rate is 3%. That is a problem. But we have to call the question and ask is there a focus on that within the detective division? Is there accountability for the fact that those numbers are so low? And yes, obviously there need to be more folks, but you need to also have leadership saying this is not an acceptable number. We are going to work together and come up with a strategy so that our numbers get better. And of course, the easy reflexive thing to say is, ‘Well, we can’t solve these crimes because people won’t talk to us.’ Well, your job is to solve the crimes, so if that is an impediment for you to be able to be successful in your job, then let’s come up with some strategies to bridge that gap.


A policing tactic that’s since been stopped involved acquiring “contact cards.” Getting information  for the cards required stunning numbers of street stops. And the public howled about it at the Task Force meetings.

So as a consequence, and the numbers are there in the DOJ report and our report, you saw this out-sized increase in the number of investigatory stops, very minimal amount of contraband that accompanied that, and luckily very few arrests in comparison to the investigatory stops. But what you got was a lot of really pissed off people.

When we had our taskforce public hearings, and one in particular still sticks with me, we were down at the South Shore Country Club and the audience was predominantly black, but it was, outside of the race, very diverse. We had a lot of middle and upper middle-class professionals, men and women, old and young were there in that meeting, and when I heard women who were 60s and 70s, professional people, respectful people who had been in these neighborhoods for decades…Someone I totally could identify with, telling us in vivid detail the way in which they had been disrespected by police officers. The lightbulb went on in a very major way, because what I was hearing was the consequences of – go get contact cards – without thinking about the consequences for that. And that burned very significant bridges with people of color, particularly black folks in the City feel like they had no claim to the geography under their feet. That if they are walking outside their house, going down their street, going to the store, going to the library, going to church, they were going to be stopped and they were going to be stopped in a way that was not constitutional or respectful. And if those people don’t have a countervailing good experience with the police, that’s all they are going to know and remember. And that is going to come to define for them what policing means in Chicago.


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And read a full transcript of this conversation



About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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