Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last week that he and new Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson would immediately implement nearly a third of the recommendations contained in a report released earlier this month by the Police Accountability Task Force.
The Task Force, which was created by the mayor following public protests over the dashcam video footage of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald’s murder by a Chicago Police officer, issued a scathing 190-page report that contained more than 100 recommendations for reforming a police department it described as rife with racism.
“As a city, we cannot rest until we fully address the systemic issues facing the Chicago Police Department, and the steps announced today build on our road to reform,” Emanuel noted in an April 21 statement.
“Under the leadership of Superintendent Eddie Johnson, the police department will implement these reforms immediately while we continue to work together to find additional ways to restore the fabric of trust in communities across Chicago.”
According to the statement, the mayor’s and superintendent’s reforms “center on three core goals,” which include strengthening police accountability and oversight, restoring trust between residents and police, and making the department more transparent.
Some specific task force recommendations that Emanuel said will go into effect immediately include an independent audit of the Independent Police Review Authority, creating a third-party hotline for officers to report the misconduct of other officers, the issuance of quarterly progress reports on the status of reforms and expanding the department’s use of body cameras.
But those reforms were criticized as “half-measures,” “squishy” and “not new,” by the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, which also blasted the claim, made in the mayor’s April 21 press release, of the task force report having “made at least 76 specific recommendations.” The report actually made more than 100, which would lower the portion of those recommendations the mayor is claiming to have implemented to less than one-third.
“There’s a real smoke-and-mirrors feel to the list of changes,” the Tribune editorialized. “Many are not new. Others are squishy. The memo counts several that the city is ‘in the process of designing and developing’ or ‘is partnering with mental health practitioners to design’ or has ‘initiated a collaborative program to review.'”
Many critics of the mayor’s announcement have also pointed out that he’s overlooked some of the most consequential recommendations — including the replacement of IPRA with a civilian-led police oversight body and the removal of provisions within police contracts that work to protect, instead of hold accountable, abusive officers. And at least one West Side alderman criticized the mayor’s unilateral approach in making them.
“The mayor hasn’t consulted us on those recommendations at all,” said Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), during an interview last week. “He just sent out a press release. I want the Council to make recommendations of our own for what is best for our communities.”
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said that some of the measures announced by the mayor can be done by executive order while others may need the approval of aldermen. Ervin, who was one of the more than 100 community leaders, experts and residents interviewed by the task force, is the primary sponsor of the Fair Cops Ordinance — which would install an independent police auditor and a Deputy Inspector General of Police Oversight within the city’s Inspector General’s office.
That ordinance was drafted two years ago by the Community Renewal Society (CRS) to “fundamentally overhaul the system of police accountability in Chicago,” according to the organization’s website. West Side Aldermen Mitts, Michael Scott, Jr. and Taliaferro have all signed on as co-sponsors.
Those West Side aldermen, Ervin included, have also signed on as co-sponsors of Ald. Leslie Hairston’s (5th) ordinance to replace IPRA with an Independent Citizen Police Monitor — a civilian body that would investigate patterns of police abuse and work to change harmful policies within the department.
Both Hairston’s and Ervin’s proposed ordinances call for the respective oversight bodies they would create to be funded with at least one percent of CPD’s budget and prohibit people who have been formerly employed by CPD from working in those oversight bodies.
For those, like Quiwana Bell, who most directly feel the effects of the tension between the police and citizens, the bottom-line is that trust needs to be restored.
“When the majority of youth violence in our communities comes from the unending retaliation from one group on another, we must restore community trust in the ability of police to bring justice for our lost loved ones,” said Bell, the associate director of the Austin-based Westside Health Authority.
“Community members, including youths, must know that police are here to serve and protect — not profile and harass. We have to work together to rid our community of the skepticism that years of systemic racism in CPD has caused. And it’s got to be real. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.”