Last month, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced that her office would hold a series of Consent Decree Community Roundtables throughout the city in order to gather feedback from residents on how to reform the Chicago Police Department.
During an April 7 roundtable, held at the Lawndale Christian Health Center, 3750 W. Ogden Ave., West Side residents offered a range of observations and ground-level recommendations for how police can build better relationships with the communities they serve.
Community members called for better training, more effective screening of police applicants, more effective performance reviews, enhanced cultural awareness and more accountability for police officers involved in shootings and racial profiling incidents.
Common to those concerns was the perception among residents that the majority of police on the West Side simply do not know the residents they're supposed to be protecting.
Each roundtable features an overview of the consent decree process, which dates to January 2017, when the Justice Department under former president Barack Obama issued a report that found that Chicago police systematically violate the rights of the city's minority residents and that the police were rarely held accountable for those violations.
That month, the Obama Justice Department and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also agreed to a consent decree, which would make the Justice Department's recommended reforms enforceable by a federal judge and a court-appointed monitor.
After President Donald Trump was elected, however, Mayor Emanuel began negotiations with the new Justice Department to agree to reforms without federal oversight. Trump and members of his Justice Department had been critical of the Obama-era police reforms and against federal oversight.
According to a Chicago Tribune report published last August, Madigan said it was "ludicrous" to be in talks about police reform with a Trump Justice Department that "fundamentally does not agree with the need for constitutional policing."
In August 2017, Madigan filed a lawsuit against the city to obtain a court-enforceable consent decree for the Chicago Police Department.
The roundtable meetings are part of Madigan's process of drafting that consent decree. She has also launched a website, chicagopoliceconsentdecree.org, for residents to provide feedback about "their experiences with the police department and how to improve public safety, which will help inform the terms of the consent decree," according to a statement released by Madigan's office.
Dorothy McCullough, a citizen facilitator for a Chicago Alternative Policing Strategies beat on the West Side, responded favorably to the roundtable meeting.
Joe Hereto, with UIC's Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement, which helped facilitate the roundtable, said that the roundtable gave community members a chance to be heard.
"People have experience living in this community," he said. "When people are constantly emotionally reacting to one incident after another, you never get to the long term fix. This gives everyone a chance to make suggestions as part of a long-term process."
Many of the roundtable participants, who were allowed to comment anonymously, criticized what they believed were the many abuses experienced by residents at the hands of police.
Many police, residents said, seem to fear blacks, leading some attendees to wonder whether or not the Chicago Police Department properly screens candidates for racial bias.
Some participants recommended that the police be trained on dealing with the mentally ill and on de-escalating crisis situations. Other attendees recommended that charges be pressed against police officer who use excessive force.
Perhaps hiring more blacks and Hispanics, and promoting more minorities, might help the police gain trust among residents on the West Side, some community members said.
Michael Romain contributed to this report.
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