Chicago releases plan for court-monitored police reform
Among the proposed reforms are requiring that officers issue a verbal warning before any use of force
By Sara Burnett
CHICAGO — Chicago and state officials released a plan Friday to carry out far-reaching police reforms under federal court supervision more than a year after a U.S. Justice Department investigation found a longstanding history of civil rights violations by the police department.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson released a more than 200-page proposed consent decree that would cover topics ranging from police recruitment and training to the use of force and misconduct investigations.
Among the proposed reforms are requiring that officers issue a verbal warning before any use of force and provide life-saving aid after force is used. The Chicago Police Department would need to issue monthly reports on use of force incidents.
The plan also establishes a 180-day deadline for investigations to be completed by the police department's internal affairs bureau and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and calls for better training and supervision of officers.
Madigan acknowledged there have been many attempts over decades to reform the department and the relationship between police and the community, most recently after video of a white police officer fatally shooting a black teen 16 times led to protests and the Justice Department investigation. Yet she said too many Chicago residents still don't feel safe in their neighborhoods, or calling the police.
"I believe it will be different this time," she said, calling the plan a milestone in what will be a long journey.
Under the consent decree, a federal judge would appoint an independent monitor to ensure the more than 500 changes are made and report to the judge on whether the city is hitting reform benchmarks. That oversight that would continue until a judge determines the city has fully complied, a process that will take years.
"This agreement will stand the test of time," Emanuel said. "It is enforceable, sustainable and durable."
Madigan, with Emanuel's support, sued the city last year in U.S. District Court in Chicago seeking court oversight of the beleaguered police department.
The lawsuit killed a draft plan negotiated with President Donald Trump's administration that didn't envision a court role in reforming the department — a departure from the practice during President Barack Obama's administration of using courts to change troubled departments.
Emanuel and Johnson say the agreement builds on some changes the department already has made, such as issuing body cameras to every officer. Madigan's office held more than a dozen meetings with community members and rank-and-file officers as part of the process.
Still, Friday's announcement is far from the final step.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Dow set a Sept. 1 deadline for the city and attorney general to file their proposed agreement and Dow is expected to hold a hearing where stakeholders will be able to weigh in before he gives final approval.
Chicago's police union has sharply criticized the legal action and has sought to have it dismissed, saying a consent decree would make it harder for officers to do their jobs and put officers' lives in danger. Some of the changes the agreement seeks are part of the officers' contract, and still would need to be negotiated as part of collective bargaining between the city and the union.
A final sticking point also remains over whether officers must file paperwork whenever they point a gun at someone, even if they don't fire.
A damning Justice Department report released during the waning days of the Obama administration in January 2017 found that deep-rooted civil rights abuses permeate Chicago's 12,000-member force, including racial bias, a tendency to use excessive force and a "pervasive cover-up culture."
The investigation was prompted by the video released in late 2015 that showed Officer Jason VanDyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald as the teenager appeared to walk away from police carrying a small, folded knife. VanDyke is scheduled to go on trial on murder charges Sept. 5.
In a joint statement with Justice Department officials at the time the report was released, Emanuel committed to making changes through a consent decree process. He later said doing so was impossible because the Trump administration was backing away from such agreements. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said consent decrees can unfairly malign good officers.
Activists blasted Emanuel for cutting the now-defunct deal with the Trump Justice Department, arguing the department couldn't be transformed without court scrutiny.