Remember when the Department of Justice came to Chicago with a list of “requirements” for reform of the Chicago Police Department? That was just days before Donald Trump upended the federal government and announced that the feds would no longer seek a consent decree to push those reforms through.
On Chicago Newsroom a few weeks ago, Police Board Chair Lori Lightfoot told us that only about a third of the recommendations a different task force – the one she chaired and whose members were chosen by the mayor, and which had reached many of the same conclusions a few months earlier – had been implemented.
The not-for profit Chicago Reporter decided to build its own progress tracker for the DOJ report. It concluded that the DOJ had 99 “requirements,” and that, six months after its release, only 6 of the 99 could reasonably be considered completed. Reporter Jonah Newman is leading the tracking project.
“Some of these are going to take a long time to really implement,” he allows. “Some of them require the cooperation of the Police Union. Some of them require City Council. Some of them require other city agencies, so I think it’s important to not be too critical, to understand that some of these are going to take a long time.”
And Newman reports, some of the next category, “partially implemented,” include some very thorny issues that can’t be considered implemented just because someone sent a memo. “Changing the use of force policy to clarify and reinforce the idea that the sanctity of life is of utmost importance for example. Those are really important things, and again, important things to see implemented into CPD policy. At that point we will mark that on here as implemented. The question then becomes – well, does that change what actually happens for police officers in the field, and that’s going to take a lot longer to really see.”
Chicago just missed having the Justice Department run the process by a few weeks, a fact that community organizers lament and some police supporters celebrate. But, Newman says, there’s no doubt that the Trump administration has lengthened the process considerably. “If you talk to police reform advocates and people who have done this in other cities,” he explains, “they will say that federal oversight is crucial. To make sure that there is actually a timeline for how and when these things are supposed to happen, that there’s money put behind them, because without money a lot of these things are going to go by the wayside…So in other cities where the Justice Department has come in and done these investigations, by now we would be well on our way if not already have a signed consent decree between the City and the Justice Department.”
Many critics have noted that the police unions stand united against many of the enumerated reforms, and some specific ‘requirements” cannot be implemented without modifications to the police labor contracts. Key among these issues is the process for engaging with police officers who’ve been involved with a shooting or other controversial action.
“They are not required to talk to investigators from (what’s now) COPA until 24 hours after the shooting,” says Newman, “and they are allowed, and not just in shootings but in all misconduct cases to, if there’s video, to view the video before making a statement. Or if they have made a statement before viewing the video to view the video and revise their statement afterwards.”
But Newman cautions against casting the FOP and other unions as the sole reason for delaying reform. “I do think that some of the more difficult recommendations from the Justice Department are not contingent on the FOP, and are some of the ones that are going to be most difficult to track…And some of that is because the City hasn’t released information or hasn’t been fully transparent about what they may or may not be doing. But part of it is things that we, it’s just going to take a long time and a lot of work and data analysis to really figure out if it’s happened, right. So for example, are they holding supervisors accountable if they fail to report misconduct. That’s something that we don’t know yet.”
“One of the recommendations of the Justice Department had to do with the timing and the process for what happens after an officer-involved shooting,” he continues, “making sure that officers and witness officers are separated so they can’t collude and start to get their stories straight, making sure that IPRA investigators were there on the scene, obviously once the scene is secured. But making sure that they really have an active role so that they are not just relying on the Police Department to do interviews first, and then IPRA comes in to do it after the fact.
So it’s crucial that, after a shooting, the Independent police Review Authority has investigators in the scene immediately.
Newman says that Police Board Chair Lori Lightfoot, and Sharon Fairley, who heads what was once IPRA but has now been re-tooled as the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, have made strides toward reform of their agencies, but it’s something that isn’t easy to track.
“I think that both Lori Lightfoot and Sharon Fairley have really taken their positions seriously,” he asserts, “and are both really serious about making sure that the police oversight process in Chicago is fair and transparent and works with the community. They’ve both really made themselves open and available to the public in ways that I think wasn’t necessarily true before.”
Newman has written extensively for the Reporter about police issues, and a recent report tackles police moonlighting. Chicago’s, he tells us, is the only Department among America’s top 50 that does not require officers to report their moonlighting work to their supervisors. And with all the overtime that Chicago officers are being required to work in recent years, that’s becoming an issue. “Obviously the concern is that if you are being overworked, if you are working 15, 16, 17 hours straight, are you really clear-headed enough to be doing that job?”
Beyond the fatigue issue, Newman says the CPS fails its officers in a very significant way. “When this report was written, and I don’t know yet if this has changed, again, it’s one of the things the City says it’s working on and is adding more resources to the department within the Police Department that provides these services. But at the time there were three mental health counselors for a 12,000-unit strong police department. Three people. That’s clearly not enough, and the tragedy is and I think this was actually in the task force report, that the Chicago Police has a higher suicide rate than other police departments. Not just in the general public, which that’s already the case, but than other police departments across the country. Obviously, we’re not helping these men and women the way that they need to be served, and making sure that there is no stigma about that, and making sure that the department is really serving their needs.”
If there’s any doubt that misconduct occurs in the CPD, consider the cash settlements the city made after lawsuits from the public between 2011 and 2016 The total came to more than $280 million.
“It’s an incredible amount of money,,” Newman insists. “And the most shocking thing to me as I’ve been reporting on these lawsuit settlements is again, unlike other cities, unlike best practices, the City of Chicago does not routinely and strategically analyze these lawsuits to see – are there ways that we could actually minimize the amount that we’re paying out? Are there ways that we could obviously minimize the underlying misconduct that causes all these payouts? That’s not something that the City has been doing, despite the fact that first the Mayor’s task force said they should be doing it, then the City’s Inspector General said they should be doing it, then the Department of Justice said they should be doing it, they’re still not doing it.”
“That’s low-hanging fruit,” he continues. That’s easy, right. It doesn’t take long. We did it. We took the time. They have access to the data about these lawsuits even more so than we do, right, and so it’s not that hard to be taking that data, mining it, and saying what could we be doing? What policies could we implement? What training could we do that might change some of these things?”
The reason the Reporter’s database has five categories of implementation, ranging from “implemented” to “Not done” with a special “unclear” designation is that, just because an official says it’s done don’t necessarily mean that it’s been done. “One of the things I think we need to be careful about is the difference between having a policy on paper and actually knowing well how is that playing out on the street with police officers in the field. And so I think with all of these you need to take some of that with a grain of salt, because we just don’t know yet and may not know definitively exactly how all of these reforms are working.”
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And you can read a CN transcript Sep 21 2017